B-G strike over pirate radio cancelled

Planes grounded due to interference from pirate radios; Mofaz, Atias vow help.

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The Israel Airport Workers Union late Wednesday night called off a threatened strike over dangerous communication interference caused by pirate radio broadcasts. The union had announced it would cancel all flights between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Thursday. However, it later said it had acceded to a request by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to put off the strike to allow time to solve the problem. "We don't want to be responsible for the loss of life," said Pinhas Idan, chairman of the Israel Airport Workers union on Wednesday evening, before the cancellation of the strike. A number of flights scheduled for Thursday were moved up to Wednesday night to avoid the strike. Earlier Wednesday, transmissions from a pirate radio station in Ramallah interfered with control tower communication systems at Ben-Gurion. As a result, music was heard on pilots' radios, instead of the usual silence when no messages are being relayed between the planes and the tower. Communications Minister Ariel Atias told Army Radio Thursday that Israel put a stop to the station's activity, "by means which are better left unsaid." Atias went on to say that this "method" was not the ideal option to deal with the problem, and that a suitable solution must be found to deal with the stations in and outside of Israel. "What happened today [Wednesday] could bring disaster and could result in something terrible," said Gali Gabbai, Israel Airport Authority spokeswoman. According to Arie Gilad, director of operations for the authority, the interference began around 9 on Wednesday morning and lasted for approximately two hours. During this time, he said, a Continental Airlines pilot lost contact with air traffic controllers minutes before the plane was due to land, forcing the pilot to land without final authorization from the tower. After the interference ended, Gabbai told The Jerusalem Post, Idan informed Gabi Ofir, the Airports Authority's director-general, that the union would strike if the broadcasts continued. However Ofir convinced Idan to give the police time to try to resolve the situation. The pirate broadcasts continued intermittently throughout the afternoon, Gabbai said, forcing the cancellation or delay of dozens of flights and causing Idan to announce at 5 p.m. that the union will not be working for most of Thursday. "This is the first time in the union's history that it has undertaken a temporary one-day strike. However, this situation demands such actions," Gabbai said. Idan said that if the problem was not resolved by the end of the week, the union would go on a prolonged strike beginning next week. Pilots and airport officials have been warning the government and the public for years that disruptions of airport communications could cause a fatal accident. Only last week, Gilad told Israel Radio that the Communications Ministry was failing to enforce the law prohibiting pirate radio. Police in the Dan region said on Wednesday that they received a complaint a day earlier from a Communications Ministry official regarding a pirate radio station operating on Rehov Yehoshua in Bnei Brak. The complainant said the station was disrupting communications and endangering air traffic. Police and ministry representatives arrived at the address where the station was allegedly operating and took the 53-year-old owner of the apartment in for questioning. He was later released on bail. As of late Wednesday evening, the communication disturbances were continuing on a sporadic basis, grounding many scheduled departures and stranding many frustrated passengers at the airport. AP contributed to this report