Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT) is considering the operation of an airborne firefighting system through its Snonit subsidiary, sources inform "Globes." The catalyst for this measure is the crisis in recent months afflicting the Chim-Nir Aviation company, which is under a stay of proceedings.
The firefighting squadron, which was founded following the Carmel fire in 2010, has since carried out thousands of missions. The squadron has 14 Air Tractor planes purchased by Elbit Systems, which is responsible for operating the squadron, for which it is paid NIS 50 million a year under an agreement with the Ministry of Public Security. When the squadron was formed, Elbit Systems contracted with Chim-Nir as a franchise holder to operate the planes and employ the pilots and ground crews in exchange for NIS 20 million a year.
Following Chim-Nir's severe financial crisis, the court last November appointed Adv. Nitza Posner as trustee to sell the company. Posner has since negotiated in an effort to sell Chim-Nir to Knafaim Holdings Ltd. (TASE: KNFM) and Israir Airlines and Tourism Ltd.. Posner declined comment on the matter.
The agreement between the Ministry of Public Security and Elbit Systems states that starting in April the firefighting squadron must be fully ready to respond to fires everywhere in Israel. The situation of Chim-Nir and the difficulty in finding a franchise holder to operate the squadron in place of it resulting in comprehensive staff work by Elbit Systems in preparation for operating the squadron by itself.
Even if Elbit Systems decides to fulfill its obligation to the state by operating the firefighting squadron by itself through Snonit, it will have to obtain special operating licenses within a few weeks for the company from the Israel Civil Aviation Authority.
A source involved in the crisis in the firefighting squadron told "Globes" that Snonit had experience in operating airplanes and helicopters in Israel and other countries. Snonit operates 90 aircraft in Israel, including police helicopters and training airplanes of the Israel Air Force flight school, and is also active in this area in other countries.
According to the Ministry of Public Security's requirements, the firefighting squadron must have 11 regular pilots and 18 more pilots employed on an hourly basis, plus 20 ground staff operating from a number of landing strips around Israel, in order to provide a rapid firefighting response.
One of Elbit Systems' firefighting planes was damaged yesterday in a forced landing in the area of Moshav Nir Banim in the Lakhish Region. The pilot, who was returning from a training flight in the Jerusalem area, landed in open ground after the plane's engine failed.
This is the second time since the firefighting squadron was formed that engine failure resulted in a forced landing. A source close to Elbit Systems said today that warranty for the engine from the manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney, was still valid, and that the circumstances of the malfunction were still being examined.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 19, 2019
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