Knesset debates Airport fuel contamination

C'tee chair says despite media coverage, there has been no round-table discussion bringing relevant parties to discuss the incident.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
May 19, 2011 05:59
2 minute read.
Ben Gurion airport

Ben Gurion airport 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Two weeks after a suspected contaminated fuel supply delayed thousands of travelers, the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee held a meeting to discuss the implications of the embarrassing fuel foul-up, and to prevent future such events.

Committee Chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen said that although the fuel contamination had received extensive media coverage, there had yet to be a round- table discussion that brought together the relevant parties to discuss the incident. This was the rationale, he said, behind holding Wednesday’s meeting.

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“One could say that this was a consumer, economic, service and image disaster,” said Shama-Hacohen. “It is embarrassing that a country that develops missiles like the Arrow, defense systems like Iron Dome, and maintains satellites in space does not have the ability to guarantee a fuel supply for airplanes.”

Transportation Ministry Dir.- Gen. Dan Harel briefed the committee on the chain of events of what became a civil aviation crisis.

Two weeks before airplanes were grounded by the fuel contamination, information began to accumulate that the filters at Ben-Gurion Airport’s fuel dump were becoming clogged much more quickly than usual.

Harel said that at the time, however, fuel samples sent to be checked came back clean.

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On May 5, Harel said, a senior official warned the ground services director at the airport that the samples contained an unidentified material that could be life-threatening.

Based on this report, it was decided to stop fueling airplanes.

Harel said that since the grounding, the material had been identified as ash and glass fibers, but that the source of the contamination had yet to be identified.

Experts believe, he continued, that the source of the contamination was outside of the airport facility.

For six days, until May 11, the airport managed to make do with alternative fueling arrangements, Harel said, adding that “no planes were actually canceled – there were delays, but within 14 hours, all the planes were re-fueled and ready to fly.”

According to Harel, two separate committees have since been established to probe the contamination – one under his leadership in the Transportation Ministry, and a second, led by Gas Authority Director Hen Bar-Yosef in the Ministry of National Infrastructures.

Bar-Yosef said his committee would deliver its conclusions within six weeks.

He emphasized that at no point in the crisis was the allegedly contaminated fuel actually pumped into airplanes.

But an Israir Deputy Dir.- Gen., Dror Bahat, disagreed with Harel’s attempts to downplay the economic implications of the incident.

“We canceled dozens of flights and had heavy financial damage,” Bahat said.

Over 12,000 travelers were involved in the incident and class-action suits have already been filed against some companies, El-Al said.

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