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2 Iyar 5761 - April 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Pay for Some El Al Pilots Goes Sky High

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Pilot salaries are one of El Al's most costly burdens, say senior executives of the company, which has fallen on hard times.

According to Ha'aretz correspondent Z. Blumenkrantz, the November pay slip of one pilot, with the rank of captain, showed a salary of NIS 73,898-- a base pay of about NIS 50,000 and over NIS 20,000 in overtime.

El Al says its 100 veteran pilots earn up to four times more than its 300 junior pilots and first officers.

The base salary of a young pilot is around NIS 15,000 and a veteran captain earns NIS 60,000. Nonetheless, there are junior pilots who have earned up to NIS 100,000 (gross) in a single month. El Al's management would not say what percentage of its expenses are pilots' salaries, only that the proportion is significant against total expenditures.

A pilot's base salary is for 75 hours of flying time per month, or 360 hours abroad. It doesn't matter if a pilot flies less than 75 hours in a particular month, he still gets the base salary.

Pilots are encouraged to fly more than 75 hours per month, within the limits of international regulations--up to 1,000 hours per year and no more than 300 hours per quarter.

Their salaries are usually some 30 percent more than the base wage. The November pay slip mentioned above showed that the captain received NIS 7,559 for regular overtime and NIS 11,839 for extra overtime.

When a pilot flies an unscheduled flight, he earns double- time-and-a-half. Pilots also get spending money in dollars to cover their meals overseas and the airline pays for their hotel accommodation.

According to Blumenkrantz's article, the gap between the salaries of junior and senior pilots began to widen in 1989. At that time El Al was, under the management of Rafi Har Lev, who signed an agreement with serving pilots that new pilots would start off at lower salaries.

This was in exchange for the company allowing senior pilots to fly beyond the age of 60. At that time, veteran pilots got their pay in dollars, new ones got shekels. Over the years, more and more pilots were hired on lower base salary.

When an El Al pilot turns 60, he becomes a "cruise captain" - - no longer allowed to man the controls for takeoffs and landings, or to command flights.

All El Al pilots are Israel Air Force veterans and get pensions from the army. Some pilots therefore declined deductions to the company pension plan in favor of higher take home pay.

About two years ago El Al's expansion resulted in a shortage of pilots and the company began massive recruiting and accelerated training.

Some pilots who had applied to El Al and not been accepted were even lured away from other airlines. There still were not enough pilots to fill the flight schedule, so the veteran pilots began putting in heavy overtime, and their wages rose accordingly.

Since the beginning of the security crisis in October 2000, tourism has dropped and El Al has cut the number of flights to a point where some pilots are sent on forced vacation to lower the company's expenses. The pilots are currently on the verge of negotiating a new wage contract for 2000 (retroactive) and 2001 and are threatening sanctions if progress is not apparent in a few weeks.

"Pilot salaries are not a matter for public debate on the pages of a newspaper," says Itai Regev, president of El Al's pilots' union. "Pilots at El Al, unfortunately, are among the least expensive you will find in serious airlines the world over. The worst image for an airline is cheap pilots. Such an airline is liable to damage the professional quality of the flying, since high quality pilots leave and the ranks are filled with less professional ones."

Regev explained that this has happened to airlines in many countries, especially in the United States in the 1980s, and has contributed to many flying accidents. "The Americans learned their lesson," says Regev. "I think El Al and the citizens of Israel deserve quality pilots, the foundation for safe, quality flying."

"El Al employs some of the best pilots around, and pays them properly," he told Ha'aretz. "I don't know who began all this superfluous nonsense about pilots' salaries. I hope it wasn't El Al's management but I wouldn't be surprised if it was. The details mentioned in the papers are distorted and reflect only a small part of the picture. Out of 400 pilots, 300 are young and new [with El Al] and don't earn anywhere near the figures mentioned in the newspaper."

Regev said he hoped El Al's management would behave respectably in the near future, adding that pilots' wages are determined with full agreement between the workers and management.

Regev said management should spend less time fussing about pilot salaries and get on with running the company. Management refused to comment on the issue.

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