B-G Airport carefully fixing safety flaws, MKs told

Aviation authority head vows to regain Category 1 FAA ranking after ‘complete failure on all parameters.’

December 17, 2010 03:12
MKs visit control tower at Ben Gurion Airport

MKs visit Ben Gurion control tower. (photo credit: Ron Friedman)

The Knesset’s State Control Committee conducted a tour of Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday to follow up on a State Comptroller’s Report on aviation safety, and was told by industry professionals that rapid, careful progress was being made toward regaining Israel’s Category 1 Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) safety ranking.

The comptroller’s report, which was published in September, highlighted severe safety deficiencies in the country’s civilian aviation sector, citing longtime neglect, archaic legislation, shortage of resources and a lack of new infrastructure development. The crux of the report dealt with Israel’s failure to regain its FAA ranking after having dropped from Category 1 to Category 2 in 2008, stating that Israel’s failure harmed its airlines, its economy and its reputation in the eyes of the world.

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The committee, chaired by Kadima MK Yoel Hasson and accompanied by Shas MK Avraham Michaeli, heard briefings from Zvika Vartikovski, deputy director-general of the State Comptroller’s Office, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) director Giora Rom and Israel Airports Authority (IAA) director Kobi Mor.

Vartikovski presented the report’s finding to the committee, stating that in light of the Carmel forest fire disaster, safety issues could not be allowed to be taken lightly.

He said that the report showed that at the heart of Israel’s aviation safety problems was weakness of the regulator, the CAA.

He also pointed to the Knesset’s sluggish progress on the Aviation Law, legislation that hasn’t been updated since 1927, as a cause for grave concern and one of the main reasons for Israel dropping in the FAA safety ranking.

Other points he noted included lack of cooperation between the CAA and the Transportation Ministry’s chief accident investigator, infrastructure problems and deficiencies, and poor collaboration between military and civilian aviation authorities.

Rom gave a lengthy presentation responding to the State Comptroller’s Report and presenting the committee with data on his actions since joining the CAA in 2008.

“I have been in the post for just over two years and can tell you that we constantly work in the shadow of [the potential worst-case scenario,] the accident to come,” said Rom. He explained that the CAA’s job was to regulate every civilian aircraft in Israel’s airspace, from hang-gliders to jumbo jets, and included things like licensing pilots, approving aircraft, controlling air traffic, signing international aviation agreements and regulating airports.

“We treat civil aviation and commercial aviation in particular as a national resource. Our goal is to constantly increase the traffic while ensuring safety. If we only had one plane landing every hour, we wouldn’t have any problems, but despite the risks, we aim to increase traffic. And the fact is that there hasn’t been a casualty in commercial aviation in decades,” said Rom.

Rom outlined the CAA rehabilitation plan, indicating that his No. 1 objective was to return Israel to the Category 1 safety ranking as soon as possible.

“It is important to note that it is the CAA that brought down Israel’s rating. Not the Israel Airports Authority and not the Israeli airlines,” said Rom.

“In order to appreciate the complexity of the task, you have to understand that when Israel lost its ranking it was a complete failure. It wasn’t like a student failing a course and having to make up credit in summer school, it was a complete failure on all parameters, akin to being left back a year,” Rom continued.

“Now, we are carefully and methodically rectifying each and every one of the parameters. We were instructed that we had to comply with 85 issue points. Right now we have completed 60 of them. A major task is passing the Aviation Law in the Knesset. We have completed 12 out of 13 of the chapters and hope it will be voted on in the current Knesset session,” he said.

Mor said that since the completion of the new terminal at Ben-Gurion Airport, the IAA had made safety its No. 1 priority and invested billions in purchasing and upgrading equipment and infrastructure.

From the top of Ben-Gurion’s air traffic control tower, he pointed out the works being done to upgrade the airport’s runways, which he said would be completed ahead of schedule in 2013, and the location of a new air control tower also scheduled for completion in 2013.

Mor praised the work of air traffic controllers, who in the past few years have been asked to deal with constantly growing air traffic volume, reaching a record this year, Israel’s busiest to date.

Uri Bar-Oz, Ben-Gurion’s deputy director of operations, said that Israel experienced no more safety incidents than any other Western country and that the authorities took safety very seriously.

“I don’t use the term ‘near-accident,’ which often appears in the media. We treat a ‘near-accident’ as a safety incident and define it according to the level of danger involved in the incident – minor, medium or large. Statistics indicate that the higher the rate of reported safety incidents, the less chance there is of a real accident,” said Bar-Oz.

Hasson concluded the tour by stating, “The goal of the visit was to survey the implementation of the State Comptroller’s Report. The committee sees the rapid passage of the Aviation Law as a high priority and will exert pressure on the Economics Committee to pass it as quickly as possible.”

He added, “The committee also sees Israel’s return to Category 1 safety ranking as a national objective and expects the Transportation Ministry and the CAA to complete the return rapidly. Over the last two years, we have seen important progress, but there is still much work to do, and I expect it to be done promptly.”

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