Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has decided that his government will use the Wing of Zion government jet ordered by his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu. The government’s project of converting a plane into Israel’s own version of Air Force One has drawn criticism since it was authorized in 2014, with opponents questioning whether it is necessary – especially after it vastly exceeded the original budget. In 2020 it was reported that the office of then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered the plane be grounded, fearing it would draw criticism during a major economic crisis with mounting unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Wing of Zion (Knaf Tzion) is the official aircraft of the Israeli Prime Minister and the President of the State of Israel, at their service during their official visits outside the Israeli borders (in roughly 10 flights a year). It is a Boeing 767-338ER passenger aircraft, which formerly belonged to Australian Airlines and Qantas and was, at the time of its purchase by Israel, about 20 years old. The aircraft is still in a process of improvement in Israel and is not yet operational. On November 3, 2019, the aircraft conducted its first test flight. The plane is also referred to in the media as “Israeli Air Force 1”, after the well known Air Force One of the United States.
Israel’s leaders have used military planes, and later chartered civilian flights, for diplomatic trips abroad. The Prime Minister’s Office is relying on El Al pilots trained to fly 767s to fly the new plane. But since El Al has now stopped flying 767s, eventually it won’t have enough pilots who can fly that model. The cost of maintaining the skills to operate the jet will therefore fall on the Israeli taxpayer. While the purchase price of the 767 is lower, the 767 is less cost-effective than a 787 would have been when it comes to the cost of maintenance. El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. trading as El Al (To the Skies” or “Skywards”), is the flag carrier of Israel.
El Al is the only commercial airline to equip its planes with missile defense systems to protect its planes against surface-to-air missiles, and is considered one of the world’s most secure airlines, thanks to its stringent security procedures, both on the ground and on board its aircraft. Although it has been the target of many attempted hijackings and terror attacks, only one El Al flight has ever been hijacked; that incident did not result in any fatalities. Since its inaugural flight from Geneva to Tel Aviv in September 1948, the airline has grown to serve over 50 destinations, operating scheduled domestic and international from its main base in Ben Gurion Airport.