Air Transport World

El Al: instrument of national purpose. (El Al Israeli Airlines) (Company Profile)

TEL AVIV--The scene is repeated thousands of times daily around the world: Passengers debarking after a flight. But this was no ordinary flight and these were not ordinary passengers. Many of the nearly 200 men, women and children met the warm Mediterranean sun wearing thick coats, big hats and even boots. Faces reflected strong but varied emotions: Tears of joy for many, bewilderment and trepidation for others. For all, the arrival marked a turning point. Former residents of Kiev, they were about to start new lives in Israel.

Israel had been founded as the Jewish homeland but for many of the Jews living in the U.S.S.R., it was a home that they could not reach. As the Soviet regime fell, so did most of the barriers to emigration. From 1989 to early this year, the influx of Russian Jews totaled 400,000.

It's fitting that most of those new arrivals made the journey on El Al Israel Airlines, the flag carrier of their new country. Since 1948, the birth of both the state and the airline, El Al has been in the business of bringing Jews to the Jewish nation. The Israeli airline has been an instrument of national purpose.

By now, El Al, along with Israel's Jewish Agency, have become quite adept at organizing immigration flights. Rafi Harlev, El Al president, has pledged that the airline will carry immigrants from any point on 12-hr. notice.

The flights are operated not only with efficiency but also with style. As they exited the Boeing 767, the Russians arriving from Kiev last March were greeted by flags, flowers and Israeli music. A Jewish group touring Israel from Toronto was on hand to welcome the new arrivals and help them off the plane. Despite fatigue and the language barrier, the Russians danced with the Canadians. The Israeli anthem was played. For immigrants as well as visitors, it was effective spirit building.

When it comes to drama, though, the Russian flights were eclipsed by Operation Solomon. During two days in May, 1991, more than 14,000 Jews were airlifted from Ethiopia.

The civil war tearing through the country made speed essential, so nearly half the El Al fleet was pressed into service for 10 flights. …

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