(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel is trying to verify whether any of its airlines are at risk of being added to the European Union's blacklist of unsafe carriers, Giora Romm, director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Israel, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Romm was responding to an e-mail sent last week by a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to representatives of Israel's three airlines, which warned the EU could blacklist El Al, Arkia, and Israir.
Romm stressed that the CAA has received "no indications from the EU regarding this warning."
"The whole story right now is an informal e-mail sent from the IATA to three Israeli airlines," he said.
"I am trying to clarify whether there is fire behind this smoke. This letter did not come from the EU but from the IATA, and I am looking to see what the e-mail is based on."
The EU blacklist was created in 2006 following a number of fatal air crashes in Greece, Italy and Egypt, and it contains mostly African airlines.
Carriers on the list are banned from landing in and flying over EU member states. An appearance on the blacklist would be a death blow for Israeli airlines, which operate routes to many European destinations, and fly over the continent to reach North America.
Unlike the US, the EU blacklists airlines, not countries. According to press reports, the e-mail from the IATA called for pressure to be placed on the CAA to improve safety checks and regulations.
In December, the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Israel's CAA from Category 1 to Category 2, home to many airlines from Third World countries, after concluding that it was unable to implement a long checklist of required safety regulations and procedures as defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Israel received poor grades from the US over aviation safety legislation - Israel's Aviation Law dates back to 1927 - and a host of safety regulation and enforcement areas that are viewed as below international standards.
Inspection methods and mechanisms to enforce safety regulations also fell below satisfactory levels, according to the US regulator.
The FAA also cited unsatisfactory levels of technical expertise and qualified personnel. The reclassification means that Israeli airlines cannot operate any new routes to the US.
"The Americans think that Israeli aviation is on a low level," Romm said. "I very much agree with them. We are working together with the Americans on this. All of these things are very organized in the US, and they want the same standards here."
The CAA has embarked on a mission to fix the failures in question, Romm said, adding that the task was very much a work in progress.
"It's like a pregnancy. You don't ask a pregnant woman why she hasn't given birth yet. It takes nine months."
According to press reports, decades of neglect are partly to blame for the state of Israeli aviation. Romm told the Post that a major problem lay in a lack of funding from the Treasury.
"This is an obstacle in our way," he said. "The Finance Ministry doesn't have a clue about professional [aviation] issues. We are in talks with them now, and we hope they will understand the importance of providing sufficient funding."
"Even if the American FAA report were 10 times worse than it is now, they still would not grant a higher budget. They only look at budgetary constraints," Romm said.
In an e-mail sent to the Post, the Finance Ministry said, "In 2007 the CAA was granted a budget of NIS 50 million, which in effect doubled the existing budget. The CAA's work force was also doubled in relation to the previous level."
"Had the CAA or the Ministry of Transportation (which operates the CAA) succeeded in using the resources appropriately, we would not have to reach a stage where the FAA would downgrade it. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Transportation chose to spend the funds it was allocated elsewhere. We do not prevent the approval of budgets to carry out the needed changes today," the Treasury said.