F-16Is could be grounded for weeks

A week after the IAF decided to ground all of its F-16I long-range fighter jets from training flights, the end of the saga was not yet in sight on Thursday with military officials saying that the inspections into the aircraft could continue for several more weeks. "There is no set date as an end in sight," a military source said Thursday. "This will go on as long as all of the planes need to be checked and cleared." Last Friday IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy decided to ground all F-16I training flights after formaldehyde was found in the cockpit of one of the aircraft. Shkedy made the decision to suspend training flights - the plane will continue to be used in necessary operations - after a number of pilots complained of a bad smell coming from the cockpit of one of the planes. A subsequent test by a civilian company revealed a high concentration of formaldehyde inside one of the F-16Is, Israel's most advanced fighter jets. Despite the ongoing inspections, the IAF has decided to continue receiving F-16Is from Lockheed Martin. Four planes were scheduled to arrive in Israel in the coming days, defense officials said. Once they arrive, the planes will undergo inspections to determine if they contain high concentrations of formaldehyde as well. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i told the Knesset on Wednesday that no plane would be allowed to take off before it underwent tests and was cleared of suspicion of containing the carcinogenic material. So far, the IAF has checked 20 planes. Each inspection takes several days of lab tests but only one hour of work on the plane itself.