El Al Explores UAE Maintenance Options

Historic ties between Israel and the UAE could see several MRO-related developments between the two countries.
Credit: El Al

The normalizing of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) brought with it new possibilities for both countries’ commercial aviation industries. 

Israel and the UAE formed historic full diplomatic ties in mid-September by entering into the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement mediated by the U.S. government. At the time, the UAE was the third Arab state to recognize Israel following Egypt and Jordan.

Shortly after, El Al—Israel’s largest passenger carrier—announced plans to begin flights into Dubai, a move reciprocated by carrier Emirates which commenced flights between Tel Aviv and its home base. Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad Airways announced plans for daily Tel Aviv flights commencing in March 2021.

With El Al flights yet to formally begin to the UAE, an El Al spokesperson told Aviation Week this week that the airline is undertaking regulatory compliance with the UAE in order to begin the operating of flights. This will involve coming to terms with the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority along with individual regulators for Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

On Thursday (Nov. 19), El Al signed a memorandum of understanding with Etihad, which will see both carriers’ engineering and cargo divisions discuss greater cooperation in areas such as exploring MRO opportunities, along with increasing volumes of cargo traffic from Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. 

“They [maintenance] are in discussions with people there…but we are looking at operating to the UAE,” the spokesperson said. “Our purchasing department and MRO people in areas such as line maintenance are talking to different people checking offerings and who can handle aircraft, most likely Boeing 737s and 787s.” 

However, the carrier says it doesn’t expect to establish its own line maintenance stations in the UAE. “Our approach will be to see who is there and who can provide services for us,” the spokesperson added. 

Like all commercial carriers, the airline has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Operations were suspended in July and many of its workforce were placed on furlough, including many maintenance staff based at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. Despite measures to raise capital which included stock sales, it lost an estimated ILS77.4 million ($23 million) in the second quarter of 2020. 

COVID-19 put possible plans to venture back into third-party maintenance work on ice, with the airline continuing to maintain its all-Boeing fleet, which, as of November 2020, is comprised of 23 737s, six 777s and 15 787s.

On the fleet side, El Al says its 737 fleet was grounded in the wake of COVID-19 in March, with maintenance staff gradually returning from furlough at the end of June to start working on the narrowbodies with each aircraft taking around 40 days to ensure airworthiness.

Its 787 fleet remained in the air initially to service repatriation and cargo flights. Four of its 777s were also reconfigured with the removal of some passenger seats in order to maximize cargo capacity for PPE equipment such as medical gloves and masks.

James Pozzi

As Aviation Week's European MRO editor, James Pozzi covers the latest industry news from the European region and beyond. He also writes in-depth features on the commercial aftermarket for Inside MRO.