Browsing Tag: El Al

An El Al 767 at Zurich airport. Credit: Aero Icarus – Wikimedia Commons

An El Al 767 at Zurich airport – Photo: Aero Icarus | Wikimedia Commons

Ask any self-respecting airline geek which airline was the first to introduce commercial trans-Atlantic twin-engine services, and you’d probably get an answer like TWA, American, or maybe Air Canada. The surprising answer? Plucky little El Al, the fiercely independent but resource-challenged national airline of Israel. How did that happen?

Never shy in taking on a new challenge, El Al has built a reputation on pioneering industry breakthroughs – a non-stop distance record on the JFK-TLV proving flight with a Bristol Britannia in 1957 (5,760 miles). A trans-Atlantic speed record on the 707 JFK-LHR segment in 1970 (7 hours, 57 minutes). The ultimate “high passenger density” 747-400 operation in which a staggering 1,122 Ethiopian refugees were safely (if not so comfortably) evacuated from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv in 1991. And a set of remarkable COVID repatriation flights in 2020.

In 1983, El Al took delivery of the first of four 767-200s from Boeing. The first two airplanes were the standard range models (4,270-mile range). The second two airframes were extended range (ER) variants, equipped with Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4E engines, enabling a range of 5,610 miles.

By 1984, the FAA was actively working with several operators to implement new overwater operational approvals for twin-engine operations – what would become known as ETOPS- Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards. But the old rule – that the flight had to stay within a 60-minute radius of a suitable landing site — was still in effect.

It’s hard to wrap our heads around this today when we can fly 19 hours with up to 330 minutes ETOPS. But the notion of twin-engine oceanic operations was new stuff back then. A lot was unknown. An inflight engine shutdown would make the remaining engine work harder. Could it handle the stress? Could the one remaining generator or hydraulic pump reliably perform? And simply relying on the APU to cold-start at cruise or for the ram air turbine to properly deploy was not sufficient. Alternate airport requirements were more strict and a host of crew-training, equipage, and certification requirements made the very proposition of viable commercial ETOPS operations a daunting task.

What was clear was that the economics of twin-engine operations was quite compelling. The cost savings of operating a 767-200 with 190 passengers compared to a 370-seat 747 on a typical trans-Atlantic route was in the range of 45%. Fuel and crew costs (including the new two-person cockpit of the 767) accounted for the majority of the trip savings.

Having trialed its two ERs on shorter European runs from Tel Aviv, El Al was ready to exploit the 60-minute rule for commercial service from North America. On March 26, 1984, El Al became the first airline to offer commercial ETOPS flights, operating a 767-200ER (4X-EAC) from Montreal to Tel Aviv. The non-stop route, in compliance with the 60-minute rule, took 11 hours and 8 minutes.

El Al's first ETOPS flight was from Tel Aviv to Montreal on March 26, 1984. Credit: Great Circle Mapper

El Al’s first ETOPS flight was from Tel Aviv to Montreal on March 26, 1984 – Image: Great Circle Mapper

Based on the early success of the Montreal route, El Al added more ETOPS flights the next year offering 767ER service on the following routes:

  • Tel Aviv – Amsterdam – Chicago – Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Tel Aviv – Amsterdam – Montreal
  • Tel Aviv — Amsterdam – New York (JFK) – Miami
El Al's early transatlantic routes were groundbreaking. Credit: Great Circle Mapper

El Al’s early transatlantic routes were groundbreaking – Image: Great Circle Mapper

Ultimately, the airline would achieve 120-minute ETOPS approval, allowing more flexible routings on the North Atlantic runs.

El Al’s achievement was groundbreaking – both technologically and psychologically. There was a lot of resistance to the idea of twin-engine oceanic flights back then – from the International Federation of Airline Pilots (IFALPA) to former FAA Administrator Lynn Helms. Ultimately, technology – and economics – would prevail.

TWA was quick to follow El Al's ETOPS example. Credit: Ralf Manteufel -- Wikimedia Commons

TWA was quick to follow El Al’s ETOPS example – Photo: Ralf Manteufel | Wikimedia Commons

El Al’s exploits were closely monitored by other airlines, eager to cash in on the favorable twin-engine economics. TWA had ten 767s on order at the time, and was working with the FAA to secure 120-minute ETOPS authority, which would allow for more direct routings from its St. Louis hub. TWA launched trans-Atlantic ETOPS flights the following year on its Boston – Paris route and would go on to build a network of 767 routes from St. Louis and New York (JFK) hubs. American and Air Canada were quick to follow. The floodgates were opening.

Air Canada quickly sought ETOPS certification for its 767s as well. Credit: Michel Gilliand – Wikimedia Commons

Air Canada quickly sought ETOPS certification for its 767s as well – Photo: Michel Gilliand | Wikimedia Commons

Today, the vast majority of flights across oceans are performed by twin-engine airplanes. Few were the visionaries who could foresee that development in the early 1980s, when the very notion of twins across the ocean was controversial. But the contemporary dominance of twin-engine intercontinental flight came about only through three decades of patient, deliberate development in commercial ETOPS operations – punctuated by the bold exploits of a few early movers. So, next time you board a 787 for Frankfurt or A350 to Hong Kong, you might just tip your hat to that plucky airline from Israel that started it all.

Not gonna lie - it'd be great if El Al would do a heritage livery like this. Credit: Michel Gilliand – Wikimedia Commons

Not gonna lie – it’d be great if El Al would do a heritage livery like this – Photo: Michel Gilliand | Wikimedia Commons

 

About the Author: Steve Jaffe is founder and editor of airlinestoisrael.com and author of Airspace Closure and Civil Aviation — a Strategic Resource for Airline Managers.  His career has spanned all facets of commercial aviation, including marketing and consulting roles at Boeing, the FAA, US Airways, and AVITAS.  He remains an avid avgeek (best plane ever — the 757) and is working on indoctrinating the next generation of geeks and geekettes.
 
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El Al's newly refreshed first class onboard the 747-400. Photo- El Al Israel Airlines

El Al’s newly refreshed first class, onboard the 747-400 – Photo: El Al Israel Airlines

On March 14, 2014, El Al Israel Airlines unveiled new First and Business Class cabins as part of their strategy to enrich the passenger experience and make the product more competitive.

El Al's new first product in its unreclined position. Photo - El Al Israel Airlines

El Al’s new first product in its unreclined position – Photo: El Al Israel Airlines

In First, the seats will now feature Tempur-material mattresses as well as an “aloe vera” inspired covering. The seats, of course, are fully lie-flat (as they always have been) and remain in a 2-2 configuration.

A model of an Up 737-800.  Photo by El Al/Up Airlines

A model of an Up 737-800 – Photo: El Al/Up Airlines

Israel is not a large country. Because of this, domestic flying has never been of much importance. There are flights out of both Tel Aviv airports (TLV and SDV) to the resort town of Eilat, but even that is within driving distance. This fact has left Israel’s air travel market as one that focuses on flying to international destinations. Competition is heating up and El Al is planning to go head-on with a lower-cost version called Up.

Israel, though an extremely high-tech and growing economy, also has some market features that make it unique compared to equivalent countries in different climates. There is a gigantic Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) market. There is also a lot of business traffic traveling from Continental Europe on restrictive travel budgets. Realistically, most of the high-yield traffic comes from destinations in Northern Europe, North America, and Asia. British low-cost carrier easyJet is expanding its services to Tel Aviv at a seemingly unending rate. There is even talk of Easyjet competitor RyanAir starting Tel Aviv service this year.

WheelTug testing at Prague Airport using a Germania 737-700 in July, 2012 Courtesy: WheelTug

WheelTug testing at Prague Airport using a Germania 737-700 in June, 2012. Yes, it’s moving!
Courtesy: WheelTug

You may have read my recent report on the Honeywell/Safran Electric Ground Taxi System, or EGTS.  But as we’ve seen countless times with many technologies, there’s rarely just one solution to a challenge.  We’ve had the 707 & DC-8 duo,  L-1011 & DC-10s, 737 & A320s, PCs & Macs, iThingys & Everything Else… you get the idea.  Interesting, though, that the market usually settles down to 2 options. So it should be no surprise that there’s another E-Taxi system, one that takes a different approach to meeting the same objectives of saving fuel, time, and other operational costs.

Gibraltar-based WheelTug decided to figure out a way to power the nose gear in their E-Taxi solution, and not the main gear. Their reasons? Easier and quicker installation; no interference with braking and anti-skid systems; shorter cable runs to the equipment bay under the cockpit; and it’s lighter, on the single nose gear rather than two main gear. But there isn’t much space available on the nose gear and in the wheel well. To make it all work, WheelTug looked to an old idea updated with new technology – the “wheel-hub” electric motor.