Arie Egozi/TEL AVIV

El Al has firmed up its planned purchase of three Boeing 777s, but its acquisition of up to four Airbus A330s is still in the balance amid a tense row between the airline's management and Israel's minister of transport. The airline is also understood to have chosen the Rolls-Royce Trent 800 to power the 777s, but it is being pressured to switch to a US supplier.

A firm contract was signed with Boeing on 7 December for three 777-200ERs after pressure from the ministry. El Al president Joel Feldschu had threatened to delay the deal because the ministry demanded that finalising the A330-200 order be deferred.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is heading up a last-ditch lobbying effort to overturn El Al's selection of the R-R engine during a visit to Israel, in favour of the competing General Electric GE90 powerplant. An announcement on the selection of the Trent had been planned for late last week. The Israeli national carrier, however, is facing growing political pressure to reverse its decision and as a result has postponed making its decision public.

The airline had earlier ruled the other competing US engine, Pratt & Whitney's PW4000, out of the running.

Washington is thought to be using the large amount of financial military aid extended to Israel each year to pressure El Al to instead chose US suppliers. The fate of the Airbus deal remains unclear, with El Al and the transport ministry under heavy pressure from the USA to take Boeing 767s instead.

The airline's board had been due to meet on 6 December to hear the cashflow analysis of its planned mixed order for three 777s and three to four A330s (Flight International, 3-9 November).

This meeting was delayed, however, after the presentation of the forecast to transport minister Yitzhak Mordechai, "to allow further evaluation of the data."

Feldschu says the financial forecast proves that El Al can finance the joint deal. "I hope we will be able to implement the board's original decision to purchase the two types," he says. "We need them to compete successfully in the marketplace."

Source: Flight International