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The High Court of Justice ordered Ben-Gurion Airport yesterday to halt night flights, accepting a petition from the Holon municipality over excessive noise caused by late landings and takeoffs.

The airport was opened for such flights for three years while runways are being renovated.

Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Uzi Vogelman and Esther Hayut accepted the petition in a long and detailed opinion after hearings that lasted for months.

When the runway upgrades started in June 2010, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud ) granted the Israel Airports Authority approval for the night flights.

Previously the airport was closed from 1:40 A.M. to 5:50 A.M. In the summer it opened at 4:40. The High Court ordered the IAA and ministry to revert to the previous arrangement.

Katz also gave El Al special permission - even before the renovations started - to take off from 3:50 A.M. on Friday mornings and holiday eves to enable it to avoid flying on Shabbat, and the court ruled this approval applied only in cases where it was necessary to avoid violating the day of rest - but in no other cases. The plaintiffs had accused the airline of exploiting this loophole for commercial purposes.

Holon mayor Motti Sasson, who city lies west of the airport, said the decision was only one stage in the fight for "the basic right to sleep peacefully and without interference for a number of hours at night, without falling victim to commercial and political interests."

The ministry said the decision reflects their own policy and that of the IAA to avoid harming the airport's capacity while still doing the utmost to prevent harm to residents who live near the airport.

"The court stated its opinion that it would proper for the state to continue to act to formulate a general policy on operating the airport at night."

Other cases still on tarmac

Yesterday's decision on night flights at Ben-Gurion applied to only one of a long list of such petitions filed by residents of nearby communities and the municipalities themselves. The city of Modi'in, on the eastern approach to the airport, also filed a petition against night flights at very low altitudes over the city on a new flight path established due to the runway work.

After a hearing on the petition against the low level flights a number of months ago, the High Court ordered the State Prosecutor's Office to respond why the new flight path should not be closed. The next hearing on this petition is scheduled for June 6.

In another related case, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled last summer that the IAA must compensate residents of some 30 communities near the airport for the reduction in value of their homes after the expansion of the airport almost a decade ago.

The total value of the compensation is estimated at NIS 5 billion, but the state is appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court.

In another case, last year an arbitrator ordered the IAA to to soundproof homes on Moshav Bnei Atarot, which is next to the airport. Work on the homes is still in the planning stage, and if not finished in time, it could delay the reopening of the upgraded runway.