Israel's air space 'not safe enough'

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 16, 2010

A special State Comptroller report has slammed the safety standards at Israel's airports.

The report, by Comptroller Michah Lindenstrauss, blamed the finance and transport ministries and the Israel Airports Authority for underfunding the country's air control infrastructure. It also accused them of allowing Israel's air control system to become understaffed and use antiquated equipment.

The Comptroller found that many of the recommendations included in a wide-ranging security report prepared for the Transport Ministry three years ago had not yet been carried out.

The IAA, he said, is still far from fixing all the problems that led the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to downgrade the country's safety rating to Security Category 2 in 2008.

The report found that the government had not adapted the air control system to the current levels of air traffic, that funding for equipment replacement and recruitment was inadequate and that legislation has yet to be updated accordingly. As a result, the number of serious safety incidents spiralled last year to over 40.

Two other main factors cited by the report were the monopoly held by the Israeli Air Force over much of the country's airspace, where civil aircraft are forbidden to fly, thereby limiting the available air-lanes and contributing to congestion; and the lack of a second large airport in addition to Ben Gurion.

The smaller airports in Tel-Aviv, Haifa and Eilat have no capacity for additional international flights or wide-body airliners and the government and local authorities have yet to agree on the location of a second international airport.

The Transport Ministry has set up committees to deal with the infrastructure, congestion and second airport issues but they have yet to deliver their final recommendations.

The lack of an alternative second airport was highlighted this week when, on Sunday, workers at Ben-Gurion Airport launched a surprise eight-hour strike which left tens of thousands of Israelis who had gone abroad for the Rosh Hashanah holiday stranded.

Last updated: 12:04pm, September 16 2010