Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid wants to sell the “Wing of Zion”, a Boeing 767 currently being converted into a governmental plane for the Prime Minister, Israeli media Ynet reports.
So far, Israeli prime ministers have used military transport aircraft or planes chartered from Israeli airlines. The project to field a dedicated aircraft has been ongoing for four years.
In 2016, a Boeing 767-300 was purchased second-hand, after serving for 20 years as a Qantas airliner under the registration VH-OGV. The model choice was controversial, as the Boeing 767 is relatively dated, and not operated by any Israeli airlines, thus requiring dedicated maintenance capabilities.
The conversion work on the aircraft has since been carried out by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and includes the usual amenities of a governmental plane such as a VIP cabin for the Prime Minister, enough room for a 116-people-strong entourage, improved communication systems, and countermeasures.
Several delays have affected the program and bloated its budget. In addition to an interruption of the conversion work during the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction of a dedicated facility inside the Nevatim Airbase (VTM) in southern Israel, where the plane will be housed, emerged as a requirement.
The program already cost the government over $300 million, twice its initial budget, and the aircraft yet to enter service. On November 3, 2019, “Wing of Zion”, now registered as 4X-ISR, conducted its first test flight.
Lapid’s opposition to the continuation of the program was met with criticism from the Israeli defense officials, arguing that such an aircraft is crucial to the safe transportation of Israeli heads of state, according to Ynet. Moreover, the work already carried out on the airframe would limit a potential sale. Its fate should ultimately be decided by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett before the aircraft becomes operational.