'Civil aviation safety in shambles'

Lapidot Committee: Bold steps must immediately be taken to fix situation.

mofaz good 224 88  (photo credit: Defense Ministry )
mofaz good 224 88
(photo credit: Defense Ministry )
The interim report of the Lapidot Committee examining the state of Civil Aviation in Israel confirmed - and even surpassed - fears that flying in and out of Israel's crowded airports is becoming increasingly dangerous. The report, released Wednesday, emphasized that unless "an upheaval" occurs in all aspects of civil aviation, the situation will only further decline. "We are in the midst of a very serious situation that demands immediate action," said Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz at the release of the report. "I am beginning to see signs of collapse in a number of key areas," he added, listing civil aviation as one of those fields. These ominous conclusions were released Wednesday by committee head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Lapidot, the former head of the IAF and an old hand at air safety committees, having participated in the group probing the deadly 1992 crash of an El Al cargo plane into an Amsterdam apartment building. "Ben Gurion Airport is operating in a less than optimal manner," said Lapidot at the Tel Aviv press conference during which the committee's interim findings were presented. "It is effectively the only passenger gateway to Israel, and it is handicapped." "The skies are very, very crowded," said the former IAF head, emphasizing that the Civil Aviation Authority and the IAD needed to rethink the way that the airspace is divided up. He expressed frustration at the fact that many CAA officials are former IAF officers, and yet "the same people who worked in the best air force in the world" were in charge of what he constantly reiterated was a civil air authority that presided over substandard conditions. Lapidot said that the current situation, was the result of decades of neglect. Among the main problems cited in Lapidot's report were the poorly functioning Civil Aviation Authority and the "anachronistic" aviation laws in Israel. "We are in a state of general coma," he said, explaining that although the most cutting-edge passenger planes fly in an out of the airport, the computer technology on the ground is so archaic that the technology on the planes is rendered useless. Unlike most of the major airports of the world, pilots flying into Ben Gurion are still required to do 'sight' landings, which increase the risk for human error and, consequently, crashes. The only flight law on the books Lapidot said, was written by British Mandatory authorities. The infrastructure of the airport's two take-off runways, he added, also dated back to the Mandate, unchanged since their construction in 1937. Pirate radio stations, which hijack radio frequencies and disrupt pilot-control tower communication, were also highlighted in the report. In his discussion of the committee's findings, Lapidot described the phenomenon as "a monster that developed over the course of 12 years. There is simply nothing like it anywhere in the world." Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said he accepted all of the committee's recommendations and would act to implement them as early as 2008. Mofaz created the mandate for the establishment of the committee following a hair-raising near-collision in February, during which an El AL plane and an Iberia plane came within 13 seconds of striking each other. Lapidot's committee advised that immediate action be taken to solve the problems at Ben Gurion. The Civil Aviation Authority, he said, must be made into a strong body with the power and budget to properly oversee aviation safety. He and Mofaz emphasized repeatedly the need for the Lapidot committee to continue to oversee the enactment of the committee's recommendations in order to ensure that - unlike the recommendations of previous committees concerning Israeli civil aviation - these points for improvement would be carried-out. "We recommend a complete upheaval," Lapidot explained. "Otherwise, nothing will change at all."