Jet fuel crisis, Sde Dov Airport, Passengers
Passengers stranded at Sde Dov Airport on May 8, 2011. Photo by Nir Kafri
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A month after suspicions arose that the jet fuel being delivered to aircraft at Ben-Gurion International Airport was contaminated, Israel is for the first time considering the possibility of seeking foreign assistance to identify the contaminant.

Keen to discover the circumstances behind the contamination, the National Infrastructure Ministry established a committee of inquiry which has contacted three chemical laboratories abroad to discuss testing the fatty black substance found in the fuel. Another option is to use the laboratories at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

On Friday a chemical laboratory for the U.S. Air Force in Frankfurt refused to test the material that Israeli firm Paz Oil sent to them. They argued that the laboratory does not test material for private clients.

Paz Oil owns the refinery in Ashdod and is responsible for the flow of aviation fuel to Ben-Gurion International Airport.

On Saturday the company asked the National Infrastructure Ministry for assistance in convincing the Americans to test the samples. Officials expressed reservations in doing so, arguing that it would be irregular to interfere in a private matter, particularly when there are issues of liability involved. The matter has been relayed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for further assistance.

The examination of the mysterious substance is meant to identify its composition and arrive at conclusions regarding the potential damage it can cause. It also needs to discover the process that actually leads to its formation, and its prevalence in the national fuel supply.

Meanwhile, the contaminated aviation fuel is affecting domestic flight schedules. Yesterday morning, flights from Sde Dov and Eilat airports were grounded because the quality of the fuel could not be guaranteed. Consequently, Arkia moved some of the flights to Ben-Gurion airport, and passengers were transferred there by bus. By noon, Paz authorized the use of the aviation fuel.

Deputy Director of Arkia, Nir Dagan, said that disruptions to domestic flight schedules were limited and stressed that international flights were the main source of concern.

"The issue of domestic flights is less critical," he said. "It is international aviation that is suffering a great deal. It is unclear when this business will be over. The Airports Authority is doing a great job under the difficult conditions it is faced with."

However, Dagan was more critical of Paz: "The information that the Airports Authority receives changes frequently and I am unsure that it has all the necessary information," Dagan said. "Paz must provide answers because [working] like this, it is impossible to conduct civil aviation in Israel."

Passengers at Sde Dov Airport were confused by the developments, and airline representatives had few answers for them.

"I received a call in the parking lot and they told me there is no flight because there is no fuel and we need to go to Ben-Gurion airport," said Sharon Twito, who was on her way to Eilat for work. "There is a foreigner who is waiting for me to purchase an apartment. If I do not get there the deal could be canceled," she said.