El Al will introduce the first of five Boeing Next Generation 737s on its services to Europe in early 1999, following the airline's selection of the 737 over the rival Airbus A320 family.

Although the Israeli airline's traditional preference has been for Boeing aircraft, the Airbus A319 and A320 had been the front runners before the airline's board meeting, held in mid-December.

Just before the meeting, the Israeli defence and finance ministers met El Al chairman and president Joseph Ciechanover to discuss the possible implications of selecting Airbus aircraft.

Ciechanover says that, when Boeing learned that Airbus was being favoured, it cut its offer by 6%. Airbus was not advised about the new offer until shortly before the final board meeting. The last-minute offer enabled El Al to conclude a deal for five 737-700/800s for $170 million.

Airbus sources claim that the consortium was "ambushed" by the El Al board. "We will not compete again in Israel, which is a Boeing captive market," they say.

El Al's long-range, 360-seat aircraft competition starts this year and the airline says that it hopes that Airbus will offer the A340.

Source: Flight International