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