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Israel can restore its top ranking for flight safety, in line with the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority standards, by year's end, according to panel of experts headed by MK Yuval Steinitz.

The report, presented to Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu late last week, addresses primarily Israel's drop in the FAA's flight-safety ranking in late 2008 to that commonly reserved to developing countries.

Haaretz has learned the report recommends the incoming government "immediately" seek to improve airport safety so the U.S. will raise its ranking in 2009.

"The panel understood that according to the director of the Civil Aviation Authority Major General (res.) Giora Rom, allocating the necessary resources will make it possible for Israel to restore its rank to '1' in the U.S. [in terms of flight safety]," the report states.

Three immediate steps have been recommended: quick legislation with high priority for Law on Flight; additional budget allocations for the Civil Aviation Authority (about NIS 4-5 million); and approval for 10-15 more positions for supervisors at the CAA.

"The lowering of the air-safety ranking makes it difficult for Israeli airlines, which are prevented from adding more routes and undermines their ability to establish joint ventures with foreign airlines."

The panel expressed concern that if there is no change, "the European Union may undertake similar measures against Israeli aviation."

The report perceives the additional budget required [for the changes] as minimal, and the main necessary step as a government decision and legislation in the Knesset "to increase the independence and supervisory authority of the Civil Aviation Authority."

The report's authors are highly critical of what they describe to be "an unacceptable level of neglect," pointing out that "the steps that need to be undertaken could have been concluded two to three years ago."

The panel warns that not dealing with the issue of flight safety, which is primarily procedural in nature, will have negative effects on Israeli aviation in particular, and indirectly on tourism and the economy.

Meanwhile, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss decided to accelerate the probe into air safety here in view of an increase in the frequency of serious accidents, a growing number of relevant complaints, and updated reports his office received from various sources in aviation safety.

Lindenstrauss is planning to issue soon the first report of its kind in Israel on civil aviation safety. He began his investigation in the summer of 2008, following the resignation of Amos Lapidot as chairman of a joint committee of the defense and transportation ministries on aviation safety, both civilian and military.

The former chief of the air force resigned to protest what he described as a failure of Transport Ministry in implementing recommendations or air safety.