Arie Egozi/TEL AVIV

The Israeli Government is considering a change of policy which could allow El Al to fly on the Jewish Sabbath.

The national carrier has been banned from flying on the Sabbath and religious holidays for the last 20 years after the then government succumbed to pressure from religious parties.

Recent assessments reckon that the state-owned airline is currently losing $40 million a year as a result of the ban.

The refusal of successive governments to lift the ban has been a stumbling block to pushing ahead with privatisation at El Al.

Earlier this month El Al president Joel Feldschuh resigned because of his frustration with the delays to the privatisation process (Flight International, 5-11 September).

The first sign of a change of heart after 20 years is explained in the current status of the Labour-led coalition of Ehud Barak .

On 5 September, Amnon Lipkin -Shhak, the Israeli minister of transport, said privatisation could soon be achieved and "El Al may fly on the Sabbath even before it is privatised".

The minister declined to elaborate, but sources close to him said that the declaration may be another indication of the shift in the government's policy following the recent departure of the main religious parties from the coalition.

• Israir is likely to become the first Israeli airline to operate Airbus aircraft. The airline is negotiating the lease of two A320s through German-based leasing company Bavaria.

Israir operates two Boeing 737-700s but according to company president Israel Harel, the 148 seat configuration of the 737-700s no longer meets the airline's capacity requirements.

With aid from Airbus, Israir is negotiating the lease of the two A320s currently operated by TAP Air Portugal, which are due to become available by the end of the year.

Harel says Airbus is to help sublease its two 737-700s.

Last year, El Al decided to purchase three A330s, but under intense US political pressure the decision was frozen and there is no indication as to when and if it will be revived.

Source: Flight International