Ben Gurion Airport
Planes lining up for take off at Ben-Gurion Airport, April 2010. Photo by Moti Milrod
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At least 10 flights that arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport early Friday morning had to circle in the air for some time before being allowed to land, due to an overload of aerial traffic. In some cases, the delays were so long that the flights began running short of fuel and started preparations for landing at the international airport in Amman instead.

However, they were ultimately granted permission to land at Ben-Gurion before this became necessary.

The Airports Authority said that such delays are "a common occurrence, because there are many variables affecting planes' arrival at their destinations."

It added that international regulations make it the airlines' responsibility to have enough fuel on board "to sustain delays that are longer than originally planned."

El Al, one of the airlines that suffered delayed landings, said it "operates in line with international and Israeli aviation regulations. These state that every flight must have sufficient fuel reserves for the aircraft to travel to an alternative airport in case the original destination is unavailable. There was never been a case in which an El Al flight 'was nearly out of fuel.'"

Aviation experts said the combination of the fact that due to construction work that began in June, only one runway is currently in use at Ben-Gurion and the significant increase in air travel during the summer has created problems in managing air traffic to and from the country.

They added that the problem is expected to be worse in August, which is the busiest month for air travel to and from Israel.

The experts warned that airlines may have to increase their fuel loads on flights to Israel, and even alter the ratio of fuel to cargo carried, in order to avoid emergency situations in which planes would have to land at alternative airports for lack of fuel.

The issue of an alternative airport has become especially acute since Israel's Civil Aviation Authority stopped designating the military airport at Uvda as an alternative landing site. Now, the two designated alternatives are in Amman, Jordan and Larnaca, Cyprus.

The experts also predicted that landing delays would disrupt the flow of air traffic to and from Israel and have a negative impact on passengers.

Ben-Gurion Airport is expected to see 16,850 takeoffs and landings in July and August this year, a rise of four percent compared to the same period a year earlier.

An estimated 2.68 million passengers will travel through the airport during those months, compared to 2.58 million last year.

On peak days, more than 50,000 passengers aboard some 300 flights are expected to pass through the airport. The busiest days are expected to be August 5, 12, 19 and 26.