The Major General is in charge


(eTN) – In a perfect world, we might question the soundness of a connection between the military and commercial airlines. Why would a member of the Israeli Air Force, who daily deployed air defense and surveillance missions for Israel; who, over a four-year period faced near continuous warfare in the West Bank and Gaza; a noted commander of a zone where air power played an increasingly dominant role in urban counter terror operations; why, upon retirement would Major General Elyezer Shkedy take over the management of a commercial airline; and why do I care?

Why am I more confident flying El Al (to wherever)) than I am another airline whose leadership developed executive–decision making skills as desk-jockey’s through MBAs (i.e., Tom Horton/American Airlines) and Harvard law (i.e., Jeff Smisek/Continental)?

My Blanky
I am definitely more comfortable knowing that the guy in charge of the airline I am flying has accumulated a successful 60-year history with the Israel Air Force (IAF); logged more than 3,000 flight hours on a large variety of airplanes and helicopters; has played vital roles in operations; and during the Peace for the Galilee operation, shot down two enemy aircraft. In addition, the folks in the cockpit are former Israeli Air Force pilots.

The doors to the cockpit have double doors to prevent intruders, and a code is required to open the doors; the second door opens only after the first door is securely closed and the captain or the first officer identifies the visitor. Reinforced steel doors separate the passenger cabin from the baggage hold, and all aircraft have Elta’s Flight Guard missile detection and avoidance system installed.

In order to even get onto a flight, passengers are vigorously interviewed by El Al personnel. At check-in, passenger tickets and passports are examined and viewed for a security sticker which, if it does not appear, is not accepted. Passport names are checked through the FBI, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Scotland Yard, Shin Bet, and Interpol databases. Luggage is screened, hand searched, and put through a decompression chamber that simulates pressures during a flight that could trigger explosives.

He’s the Man
Israeli born (1957) Elyezer Shkedy volunteered for the IDF Flight academy at the age of 18 and within two years graduated with honors as a fighter pilot. He then became a Sky Hawk pilot, transitioning to a Mirage where he served at the Eitam air force base in Sinai. His career continued to develop and in 2004 he was appointed the Commander of the IAF and promoted to Major General. In the beginning of this year, Shkedy became the President and CEO of El Al Israel Airlines.

Birth of an Airline
El Al was established in 1948 as the national airlines for the country and has continuously received an IATA rating as “one of the worlds’ three most efficient air carriers.” Noted as a domestic and international carrier, the airline also provides “compassionate” flights and between 1950 and 1956 carried 160,000 immigrants to Israel from Yemen, Iran, and India as art of Operation Magic Carpet and Operation Ezra and Nehemiah; in 1991 the company airlifted 1087 Ethiopian Jews flying from Addis Ababa to Israel as part of Operation Solomon.

In 2003 El Al went “public,” the airline registered on the Tel Aviv Exchange, and the state’s holding of the company declined to less than 50 percent. Today, El Al Israel is considered a mixed company (as defined in the Law of Government Companies). Two years later, El Al developed a strategic plan that identified the need to significantly improve the operation within the next five years, including the passengers’ flight experience, operations, enhanced human resource capabilities, plus fleet renewal and increased cargo and maintenance.

With the beginning of the Second Lebanon War outbreak in 2006, traffic to/from Israel declined, while simultaneously the airline faced increasing competition and spiraling fuel costs. Keeping with the 2005 strategic plan, El Al acquired two new Boeing 777 200 aircraft, and in 2007, they were introduced into the fleet, providing improved seating, an enriched entertainment system, plus a codeshare agreement with American Airlines. Earlier this year, the airline hired celebrity chef Moshe Segev to improve cuisine in all classes of service. Segev has been operating Herzelli in Tel Aviv, a restaurant serving Israeli-French fusion cuisine.

Today, El Al Israel Airlines offers the largest number of nonstop flights between New York (JFK/Newark) and Israel plus nonstop service from Los Angeles. In addition, the airline flies to more than 40 destinations from Israel, serving other international destinations that include Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, as well as domestic connections to Eilat. El Al Israel first-class passengers enjoy flatbed seats with shell-like partitions for privacy, while business class passengers are offered electrical outlets for laptops and power adapters. All classes of service are offered kosher meals.

Return on Investment
Shkedy’s leadership has resulted in a net profit of SU$14.8 million for the second quarter of 2010, compared with a net loss of US$19.7 million during the same period last year. The growth is attributed to increased passenger traffic combined with reduced expenses, improved strategic planning, aggressive marketing, and expanded cargo activities.

Newest Programs
A new marketing focus encourages visitors to include a visit to Eilat on the Red Sea in southern Israel in their itinerary. Understanding the need for flexibility, El Al passengers can stop at Eilat to/from Israel, or even in the middle of their holiday.

With a focus on partnerships, the airline has joined with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) providing anyone from North America purchasing a round-trip ticket via – to have a tree planted in their honor. According to Russell F. Robinson, the CEO of JNF, the organization cares for the land and people of Israel as does El Al Israel airlines – so the synergy created by the strategic alliance works well for both organizations.

Tourism Focus
It appears that tourism continues to be a major thrust for El Al. Although Offer Gat, currently Vice President of EL in North and Central America, is a former Lt. Colonel in the Israel defense Force (IDF) Reserves, Gat has an impressive tourism background that spans almost two decades. Prior to joining the airlines he was associated with Clal Holding Travel and Tours, Third Millennium Tourism and Recreation Holdings, Zabar Tours, Recreation, and Events, as well as Israel Students Travel Company. For additional information contact: .