Haim Romano will be retiring at the end of this month after nearly five years as president of El Al, the national airline of Israel.
Romano, 55, said he would reveal his future plans next month. Retired Maj. Gen. Elyezer Shkedy, who commanded the Israeli Air Force from 2004 until 2008, was appointed by El Al’s board of directors to succeed him.
Q:During your tenure El Al began operations as a privately owned airline and Israel was in two wars.
There have been dramatic changes, as well as the financial crisis and before that the fuel crisis. Despite the challenges, El Al managed to do better and perform better than its competitors. Most of the airlines in the world lost a big amount of money last quarter; El Al finished with a nice net profit of $12.3 million after losses in the first two quarters. We are the only airline in Europe — and there are only a few all over the world — that finished the third quarter with a net profit of more than 2 percent.
What was the primary reason for the losses?
It was because of a combination of the war in Gaza — which we estimate cost the airline $40 million to $50 million in revenue — and the economic crisis. Together they brought about losses similar to those of last year. August was the first month of improvement since the war and the first month that markets began improving.
What has been your vision for El Al, especially in terms of customer service, which hasn’t always been a strong suit?
The vision we had in 2005 when we launched our strategic plan was to make El Al the first choice of Israelis leaving and coming. We wanted it to be the first choice not just because of our security but because we are the airline with the best service. We invested a lot in service, not just in equipment and new aircraft. And today our service is perceived to be one of the best in the Middle East in surveys conducted by the Israeli newspapers Yediot Achronot and Globes, as well as three other publications in Britain and the United States. We have also taken surveys and solicited comments. In the last six months, there have been more letters of thanks than complaints. That’s a change. We have also renovated our lounge at JFK and upgraded the interior of our aircraft, refurnishing all of our seats.
El Al continues to call itself Israel’s national carrier and keeps the Israeli flag on its tail.
We feel you can be a private company and a national carrier at the same time. El Al is a symbol. No other Israeli company is as known all over the world. It’s known for its security, safety and service. At the end of the day it is not just an airline of Israel but of the whole nation. And even though we are in private hands, the government still holds the golden share of 1 percent ... to keep the right to ask El Al to be of service in times of war and to provide special services like cargo services and others.
How would you assess your years here?
I think it was great. I came for three years and stayed five to accomplish our strategic plan by 2010. This is now the time for a new CEO who may have another approach in certain issues. Elyezer Shkedy is the best man for the job. He is a war hero who came from the Israeli Air Force — a great person who is well respected by all of our staff.