Israeli Air Force One
Does Israel really need an Israeli Air Force One? Since 2001, the country has rented planes from Israeli airline companies for the prime minister’s trips. Until that time an old air force Boeing 707 was placed at his disposal, but it was unable to make a transatlantic flight without stopping to refuel, and was eventually decommissioned. While every government since Ariel Sharon’s has discussed purchasing a plane, the issue had been considered politically loaded – and as such avoided – since any prime minister who approves it ran the risk of being accused of excessiveness and lavishness.
A study by the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Finance found that procurement of a plane for the prime minister's use would repay the investment within five years. The Knesset Finance Committee announced 22 December 2009 that it supported the procurement of a plane for use by the prime minister on foreign trips, a kind of Israeli Air Force One. The committee meeting was initiated by MK Abraham Dichter (Kadima). Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said, "The measure is proper, but it should be weighed against economic aspects." No such economic aspects had yet been presented to the committee and it will again discuss the matter when it obtains the necessary information.
During a Knesset plenum discussion on the issue, Deputy Minister of Finance Yitzhak Cohen said that the intention was to buy a used plane, which the Israel Air Force would operate. The plane would also be used for air-to-air refueling for combat jets. The Air Force already operates Boeing planes for this purpose. Cohen said that it was possible to coordinate the two missions, because air-to-air refueling, mostly for training missions, could be held when the prime minister is in Israel, and the plane is not needed for international trips.
Israel's Prime minister and president will – as a result of a cabinet decision on 05 April 2014 – soon have a dedicated plane available to transport them around the world. The cabinet approved the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee – a public committee established in December and headed by former Supreme Court justice and state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg – to purchase an Air Force One-type plane for Israel’s leaders at an estimated cost of between NIS 50m. to NIS 70m.
The Goldberg committee was told during hearings that, in the absence of a plane equipped with the necessary defensive equipment, Netanyahu has not – because of security reasons – been able to travel to some countries he would like to visit. In 2012 Netanyahu, for instance, canceled what would have been an historic trip to Africa – with planned visits to Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan – because of security concerns regarding the prime minister’s plane.
Likewise, the planes are not equipped with state-of-theart, secure communications systems, depriving the prime minister of the ability to be in touch with Israel when flying abroad; often – as on trips to the US – sometimes for 12 hours at a time.
The purchase of the plane might end the continuing scrutiny by the press on how much each trip abroad costs the state. Transporting the prime minister and president abroad – the prime minister on planes rented from Israel’s airline carriers, usually EL Al, and Peres in first class on commercial airliners – cost on average of some NIS 19 million a year. Netanyahu was skewered in May 2013 when it was revealed that the state spent some NIS 450,000 to outfit a leased El Al plane with a double bed in an enclosed room for a five-hour flight to London to attend Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.
Israel Hayom reported in August 2016 that after years of using chartered planes for overseas travels, the government planned to buy a used commercial plane that would be fitted with various communication and defense systems. The cost of the aircraft and the overall refurbishing is estimated at $70 million. According to the plan, the plane will enable Israeli leaders to carry out their duties in full while airborne and have room for some 100 people. Air Force One is a large aircraft, seating 70 passengers in comfort compared to Trump Force One’s 43 passengers.
An Israeli company would refurbish the yet-to-be-purchased plane, and would need about a year to fit the necessary technology according to the criteria set by a special committee comprising representatives from the Shin Bet security agency, the Transportation and Road Safety Ministry and the Finance Ministry. A company had already been chosen through a bidding process but its name cannot be published for security reasons. Accordingly, the plane could be ready by mid-2017 at the earliest. The plane would have an estimated maintenance cost of about 30 million shekels (about $7.8 million) per year. The American presidential 747s cost $325 million each and their cost of operation comes to $179,750 per hour. The hourly cost of operation for a standard 757 is just over $8,000 by comparison.
The decision to use a tender for the construction of a jet for the prime minister and president was taken following a recommendation by a committee headed Judge (emeritus) Eliezer Goldberg that also included former Israel Air Force commander Ido Nehushtan and accountant Iris Stark. They recommmended building a custom-made aircraft. The General Security Services were also involved in the process. The members of the committee were persuaded that a personal plane to serve the Prime Minister would also be an appropriate option from a security point of view and noted that other heads of state had their own personal aircraft. The committee recommended that the plane would also be able to serve other important state figures.
Israel’s own “Air Force One” aircraft, which would serve both the prime minister and president on official trips abroad, successfully executed its first test flight on 03 November 2019. The Boeing 767-300ER airliner, which arrived in the summer of 2016 from Australian carrier Qantas was since retrofitted by Israel Aerospace Industries. The cost of the purchase and renovation of the plane is estimated to total NIS 580-600 million ($170m). IAI’s experience and reputation in conversion programs (more than 250 conversions) include the Boeing 747, 767, 737NG and 737 family. The 777-300ER is the most successful widebody variant in aviation history.
The Boeing 767-300ER aircraft configuration and technology express the unique technological capabilities of IAI Aviation Division experts and employees, who as part of the division's business line convert old passenger aircraft to various and complex configurations such as refueling, intelligence and cargo aircraft. The Heads of State aircraft contains sophisticated systems that have been designed, manufactured and assembled in the aerospace industry in order to adapt to the configuration of heads of state aircraft for use in the coming decades.
The aircraft can fly in a continuous flight without the need for intermediate landings to China and Japan in the east and the United States or Brazil in the west, with sophisticated and encrypted communication systems that allow continuous, secure and encrypted contact for heads of state with Israel or other countries. In addition, the aircraft meets all the complex safety and security requirements dictated by the nature of its mission.
The aircraft carried out its first test flight as part of the conversion completion process according to the strictest requirements in the aviation world. IAI is one of the few companies in the world that has the ability to design, develop, convert and license aircraft and it performs many aircraft conversions as part of the activities of the Aviation Division which was established at the beginning of the year.
The production of the aircraft was a product of Netanyahu's demand, and its construction was accompanied by harsh criticism against the Netanyahu government's decision to invest huge sums in a dedicated aircraft of this type. The criticism of the construction of the plane was economic. First on the decision itself - since the Ministry of Finance believed from the first moment that the right decision financially was to continue flying the prime minister abroad on the basis of the current model: leasing an aircraft adapted from El Al according to the prime minister's needs. The advantage of this, according to the GSS, is security, because this plane will have communication systems that will allow it to run the country freely even when it is in the air and the need for additional aids.
Subsequently, the criticism stemmed from the inflation of the aircraft budget. At the beginning, the Goldberg Committee spoke of a cost of $ 76.5 million (about NIS 300 million). The Treasury talked about $ 50 million - about NIS 200 million, but without protection costs. In any case, at the time of the tender, the estimated cost in the Ministry of Finance had already jumped to more than NIS 700 million. In the end, the cost of the project amounted to NIS 580 million, half of which is due to the maintenance of the aircraft in the coming years. It was originally planned to have a shower on the plane - a plan that was eventually canceled due to the complexity of installing water systems on the plane.
The aircraft will apparently be equipped with a DIRCM system - also called a sky shield - a system manufactured by Elop from the Elbit Group. The system is designed to protect civilian planes from terrorist threats by disrupting radio waves, which cause shoulder-fired missiles to deviate from their course.
A significant issue facing the project leaders was the type of aircraft to be purchased. Even for her, there are now factors that are certain that a wrong decision was made. To save on initial costs, the Prime Minister's Office decided to buy a Boeing 767 - a plane that is more than 15 years old. This decision meant a much lower cost than buying a new and more expensive 787 aircraft, but by the end of 2018, all of the Boeing 767 aircraft would be out of use by El Al.
The Prime Minister's Office is based on the flying of the presidential plane and its day-to-day operations on EL AL pilots, who are trained to fly this model aircraft. Its removal from use by the company means that there will be no trained and qualified pilots to fly it. The responsibility for flying those pilots to the simulators and maintaining their fitness will also fall on the shoulders of the taxpayer. Even at the maintenance level the 767 is less efficient than the 787. So this is a choice of aircraft that is significantly cheaper to purchase, but more expensive to operate.
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