Israel flights 'safe' despite warnings

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 5, 2009

The head of Israel's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has insisted that flying to Israel remains safe, despite international criticism over the state of its air traffic control and aviation infrastructure.

However, CAA head Giora Romm admitted: "Our problem is that we don't conform to the international standards in documentation and bureaucratic procedures and these things have to be addressed.

"At the same time, the level of safety incidents and near-misses is not higher in Israel than elsewhere."

Senior transportation officials have blamed lack of government funding for last week's warning from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that Israeli airlines risk being banned from European airports if they do not improve their safety measures.

The warning came in the wake of unconfirmed reports that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was also considering downgrading Israel's safety rating, following a similar statement from the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in December.

The FAA reclassified Israel as a category-2 country, a rating shared by many states in the developing world.

The FAA report cited several serious safety problems at Ben Gurion Airport and in Israel's air traffic handling system. "The FAA found a series of problems and I think that their decision was justified," said Mr Romm. "We are working with them on improving our safety procedures. That doesn't mean that flying to Israel is unsafe."

The FAA ruling means that Israeli airlines will not be allowed to fly to new destinations in the US until the problems are dealt with.

Israeli aviation officials are currently working with their American counterparts on a comprehensive security upgrade, a process expected to take another year.

The IATA warning may be more serious, as European aviation authorities are stricter and often target both countries and specific airlines.In the past, the CAA has blamed the government for insufficient funding of aviation infrastructure. In response, the Finance Ministry has accused the CAA of mismanagement.

"The problem is that successive governments have assumed that everything is OK with civil aviation and felt that it was alright to cut funding," said a senior transportation official.

"But you can't carry on bluffing the world for ever."

The safety warnings are targeted at the national aviation infrastructure, but not at Israeli airlines.

In January, Israel's national carrier El Al achieved the highest standard of IATA's Operational Safety Audit Programme for the second year in a row.

Last updated: 12:53pm, March 17 2009