Israel’s annual Civilian Aviation Conference was held in Herzliya on Wednesday,
a day after fog at Ben-Gurion Airport disrupted commercial air traffic for half
a day, causing lengthy delays and sending airliners to land in alternate
airports in Jordan and Cyprus.
The conference, which drew roughly 200
participants, dealt with a range of issues relating to Israel’s commercial,
general and recreational aviation industry.
Yisrael Katz said in his address to the conference attendees that Tuesday’s
flight disruptions proved that Israel needs an alternate international airport
to Ben-Gurion and pointed the finger at the air force, which he claimed was
mounting difficulties that made establishing an alternative difficult for the
ministry and the aviation authorities to promote.
An alternative airport
is one where flights that can’t land at Ben-Gurion can be diverted to. Until
July, Israel’s alternate was Ovda Airport, 40 kilometers north of Eilat, but the
Civil Aviation Authority decided to replace it with the Larnaca airport in
Cyprus, citing operational and service related issues that made Ovda
“Most countries have an air force; in Israel the air force
has a country. The main problem is that even when the government decides that an
alternative airport is necessary, the air force expresses reservations and
things don’t go ahead,” Katz said.
He said the ministry preferred to
establish an alternative on existing airport infrastructures and that such
infrastructure existed in air force facilities like the Nevatim air base near
Beersheba and the Ramat David air base in the Galilee, but that the air force
did not want to mix military and civilian flights in the same
The minister said that building a runway that would project off
the coast near the Haifa Port was also being considered.
addressed the shortage of an advanced Instrument Landing System at Ben-Gurion
Airport, a system that would enable more planes to land in difficult weather and
He said the ministry had not received a request
for help from the Civil Aviation Authority or the Israel Aviation Authority to
install such a system and that if they file a request, the ministry would help.
He added that such a system would not have helped on Tuesday because of the
thickness of the fog.
Katz also spoke about the need to establish a
National Aviation Security Authority, to take over airline security
responsibilities from El Al Israel Airways.
“El Al as a private company
doesn’t want, nor should it be required, to provide these services. In light of
the importance of the issue and the growing threats, it makes perfect sense for
a national authority to be formed for that purpose. All the relevant bodies
approve of it; the only obstacle is the Finance Ministry, which opposes it for
bureaucratic reasons,” Katz said.
Civil Aviation Authority director Giora
Rom defended his decision to close Ovda as an alternate airport, saying that his
chief concern was safety and that comfort and convenience came
“As a father, I would rather have my daughter land safely in
Cyprus than land at an airport that is not equipped to handle commercial
aircraft like Ovda,” he said.
Rom said that Ovda, which can only
accommodate four or five planes, wouldn’t have helped the situation on Tuesday
even if it was open, because there were 25 aircraft that had to be
Rom also spoke about Israel’s drop in the US Federal Aviation
Authority safety ranking in 2008, from category 1 to category 2, saying that in
its effort to return to category one standing, Israel had to completely
restructure its civil aviation sector and that the process included legislation
that was bound to take a long time.
Rom said that visiting International
Aviation Transport Association chairman Giovanni Bisignani’s statement last week
that Israel should have regained its category 1 status within a year was
“nonsense” and that Israel had corrected 64 out of 89 elements required in
record time and in a way that reformed its entire system of
Rom also criticized the media for “its distorted coverage of
The media was quick to pounce on every accident report
and exaggerate the safety risks, but neglected to note the effectiveness of the
system that ensured that 80,000 commercial flights a year operated with no
problems, he said. In 2009, a total of five people died in civil aviation
related accidents and in 2010, only three people died, Rom said.
characterized his job as the most thankless in the public service.
Mor, director of the Israel Aviation Authority, also said that Tuesday’s fog was
a rare occurrence and that even if Ben-Gurion had an advanced Instrument Landing
System in place, it wouldn’t have helped because visibility at some points was
down to 50 meters.
Mor spoke about the IAA’s investment in safety and
service equipment, claiming it had spent NIS 3 billion over the past year on
things like a new radar, an advanced flight control simulator and the hiring and
training of 50 new flight controllers.
Mor said that the upgrade on a
major runway at Ben-Gurion Airport was well on its way and that he anticipated
it would be complete before schedule.
He also commented on complaints and
lawsuits issued against the IAA by communities near Ben-Gurion for noise
violations. People had to accept that noise was part and parcel of modern
aviation, he said. “I have yet to hear of planes that can land and take off
without making noise. It is something people have to learn to live with,” he
Mor also spoke about the construction of a second international
airport in the South, stating that plans for the airport in Timna, near Eilat,
were making their way through the planning authorities and that he hoped to have
it up and running before the end of the decade.
"The IDF has offered several alternatives for the establishment of an alternate international airport, which are currently being deliberated," said the IDF's Spokesman's office in response.