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Arkia preferred economic considerations to flight safety, a source in the aviation industry said in describing a serious incident involving one of Arkia's planes in Eilat. The matter has been reported to the Israel Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA).

On August 26, an Arkia ATR passenger plane took off from Eilat on its way to Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv. However, the safety pins had not been removed from its landing gear, and the error was only discovered after takeoff, when the pilots attempted to raise the landing gear - and were unable to do so. The pilots then followed standard procedure and returned to Eilat, where they landed safely.

The problem, according to the source, is that the plane should then have been grounded until the ground crew completed a technical check. Instead, as soon the safety pins were removed, the pilots took off again.

The reason that the pilots decided to fly immediately, rather than waiting, was financial, the source said. A delay would have knocked the airline off schedule. It seems that the pilots made the decision in order to satisfy Arkia's management, the source claimed.

The airline - and the pilots - made a number of mistakes during the affair, the source said.

First, the pilots should have confirmed that the safety pins had been removed by the ground crew before taking off in the first place. Then, after the landing, the pilots did not file a report on the fault, as required.

Next, the technical ground crew did not inspect the plane, as required, in order to determine whether the original mistake had caused any damage. A number of critical systems could have been damaged in the landing, including the hydraulics, wheels and tires, or brakes.

But it turns out that Arkia does not have a technical team in Eilat. Instead, the company would have had to fly such a group to Eilat from Tel Aviv to properly handle the event. And no such team was flown to Eilat to inspect the plane.

Arkia's spokeswoman, Galia Pontremoli responded: "This was not a safety event, since at no stage was there any danger to the plane or passengers. The plane was able to fly with the landing gear down to Tel Aviv."

She added that the event was reported immediately to Arkia's management and the ICAA, and that after the incident, all the relevant employees were reminded of the proper procedures.