Thick fog at Ben-Gurion Airport strands thousands

Airport authorities allow arrivals and departures, but backlog of delayed flights continues to cause extended waiting times.

311_airplane (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Heavy fog Monday night and Tuesday morning caused havoc at Ben-Gurion International Airport, delaying dozens of flights and leaving some passengers stranded for up to 12 hours.
“The incident highlights Israel’s need for a second international airport,” said airport general manager Shmuel Kendall.
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Thousands of passengers spent the morning on board planes, in the Ben-Gurion departure hall or in airports in Cyprus and Jordan, to which their arriving flights had been diverted, waiting for the fog to lift so that both landings and takeoffs could resume.
The fog finally dissipated at around 11 a.m., but the backlog was enormous and it was only on Tuesday evening that the flight schedule returned to normal. Eight flights were canceled altogether.
“The biggest problem was that planes couldn’t land and had to be diverted to alternate airports. 25 flights that were scheduled to arrive were delayed, starting a chain reaction of delays that was felt throughout the whole day,” the Civil Aviation Authority spokeswoman said.
“By noon the weather problems had subsided, but the airlines still had operational issues to deal with,” she continued.
“The airport has the ability to allow planes to land using instruments, but the fog was so bad, that even that was not possible.”
Speaking to Israel Radio, Kendall said that Ben-Gurion Airport, like most other international airports, simply wasn’t equipped to deal with the extreme weather conditions that had occurred. If the same weather phenomenon were to occur again, the same regulations would go into effect and flights would be diverted to other destinations, he said.
“The incident highlights Israel’s need for a second international airport, one that could provide an alternative for rare occurrences like we experienced today,” said Kendall.
Last week, International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Giovanni Bisignani, was in Israel for a meeting with the heads of Israel’s aviation sector and remarked on the same issue.
Ovda Airport near Eilat, the previous alternative airport, was closed to scheduled flights earlier this year; now, flights that can’t land at Ben-Gurion land in Larnaca, in Cyprus.
“This is not acceptable and it makes little sense. Airlines face added fuel costs to be able to fly to Larnaca while charter operators continue to land at Ovda. The government must move quickly to upgrade Ovda or designate a military facility for this purpose,” said Bisignani.
In a Knesset Economics Committee meeting Tuesday, Civil Aviation Authority director Giora Rom said that he decided to close down Ovda as the alternative airport six months ago because it lacked the necessary infrastructure and services to accept civilian international flights.
Rom said that even if Ovda was in use, it could only accept three or four planes at a time, and not the 25 that were diverted to other destinations.
He said that he hoped that in eight to 10 years, Israel would have a second international airport to augment Ben-Gurion.