El Al has put plans to acquire of up to four Airbus A330s on hold until a re-evaluation of its ability to finance the deal is conducted later this year.

In a contest that saw the US Government use political pressure to influence the outcome of the negotiations, Israeli flag carrier El Al decided in October to order three or four A330-200s, with three Rolls-Royce Trent-powered Boeing 777-200ERs, to update its medium-haul fleet.

While El Al's contract with Boeing was signed almost immediately, the Airbus order - the airline's first for a non-Boeing jet - became the centre of a heated debate as the transport ministry continued to question the decision.

El Al chairman Joseph Ciechanover says changes in major parameters have forced the board to put the A330 order on hold. "Rising fuel prices and recent exchange rate changes leave us no choice but to delay the implementation."

Airbus is angry at the lack of progress. John Leahy, its senior vice-president, marketing, says he suspects the delay is the result of US political pressure to dissuade Israel from purchasing Airbuses.

Source: Flight International