airport - David Bachar - November 19 2010
Passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport. Photo by David Bachar
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Even before this week's shutdown of Ben-Gurion International Airport for eight hours due to fog, the Israel Air Line Pilots Association (ISRALPA ) had warned of the potential chaos that weather conditions could bring to the country's airspace this winter due to the absence of an alternative airport in the country. The chairman of ISRALPA, which represents 700 Israeli commercial airlines pilots, sent a letter to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and the Civil Aviation Authority about a month ago expressing concern about such a prospect, Haaretz learned yesterday.

The letter, from the association's chairman, Boaz Hativa, noted that since the Civil Aviation Authority instituted a ban this summer on landings by Ben-Gurion-bound flights at Ovda airport near Eilat, pilots have no recourse but to land at foreign airports if Ben-Gurion is unavailable. As a result of this week's fog, flights were diverted to Amman and Cyprus. Hativa said inclement weather could also affect Amman's airport and the Cypriot airports at the same time that conditions prohibit use of Ben-Gurion, which would further compound the problem of the absence of a secondary domestic landing field.

"What is left?" Hativa asked in his letter, "Turkey? Greece?" He noted that use of Turkish airports may pose security issues and would also require additional consumption of fuel. "The Israeli airlines would be the ones mainly harmed by such a situation," he wrote, adding that the situation is compounded by the current availability of just one runway at Ben-Gurion Airport for civilian flights due to runway improvements underway there.

Hativa suggested the use of the Nevatim air base near Be'er Sheva as a secondary civilian airport, which he said is appropriate in light of its relative proximity to Ben-Gurion Airport and its infrastructure. Until Nevatim is prepared to receive civilian flights, Hativa wrote, Ovda Airport should be made available as an alternative to Ben-Gurion, at least during daylight hours.

Plane collision narrowly avoided

Meanwhile, a collision between two airplanes at Ben-Gurion Airport was narrowly averted yesterday, due to an air traffic controller's alertness.

An Air Berlin plane departing for Cologne, Germany deviated from its flight path and almost collided with an El Al plane preparing for landing.

An air traffic controller recognized the danger and directed the two planes to separate immediately. The German plane moved back to its flight path and the El Al pilot landed smoothly.

On Saturday, two El Al planes collided on the ground at the airport. There were no injuries in the incident.