Overgrown vegetation at Ben-Gurion Airport almost caused five commercial airliners to crash this summer.
According to the findings of a special investigation, set up to examine the near-accidents that occurred at Ben-Gurion in June and released on Wednesday, uncut weeds that blocked the line of sight of the Instrument Landing System were the cause of the passenger jets' difficulties in landing properly.
The report, released by the Transportation Ministry, found that on June 3, between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., five planes reported problems with their navigation systems, causing two of them to deviate from their flight paths and fly over for a second try, and three to land at alternative airports. None of the passengers was harmed, and some never even knew about their near-accidents - but as the report said, "under different circumstances, things could have ended differently."
The Instrument Landing System is a ground-based approach system that provides precision guidance to aircraft, using a combination of radio signals and high-intensity lighting arrays to enable a safe landing in cases of reduced visibility due to fog, rain or snow. To work properly, the line of sight of the system must be clear. The report indicated that on the morning in question, there had been a lack of visibility due to fog.
In a ground inspection of the runway, the investigation team found weeds growing to a height well over permitted levels, which caused the Instrument Landing System beam to curve downwards. The imprecise reading would have given the airborne part of the system inaccurate information, telling it the plane was coming in at a different angle than it really was, which could have led to a crash.
The report placed the responsibility for the near-accidents on all of the parties involved, including the Israel Airports Authority, ground-based technicians, the pilots and the control tower flight monitors. The report found ongoing laxness in abiding by security procedures, and failure to communicate problems and see them through once they arose.
"The fact that by coincidence all the flight crews involved were made up of Israelis may have helped prevent a more acute incident," read the report. "If foreign crews, with less familiarity of the airport and its surroundings, had been involved, things could have ended differently."
In response to the report, the Airports Authority said, "It was an anomalous incident caused by a rare disruption to the operation of the ILS [Instrument Landing System] that has never been identified in Ben-Gurion, combined with bad weather conditions... The Airports Authority has dealt thoroughly with the findings and learned all the required lessons."