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There was a sharp increase in safety-related aviation incidents of varying seriousness last year that involved foreign air carriers in Israel, according to the Transportation Ministry's annual civil aviation safety report, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz. There were 112 such incidents involving foreign airlines in 2008, compared to 36 in 2007 and 50 in 2006, according to the report, which was prepared by the ministry's chief aviation safety investigator, Yitzhak Raz.

An aviation industry source pointed out that the main reason for the increase was an improvement in reporting procedures, reflecting increased awareness of the need to inform the authorities. When it comes to Israeli airlines, El Al, which is by far the largest commercial carrier in the country, was involved in 300 safety-related incidents of varying severity, a decline from 374 in 2007 and 309 in 2006.

Safety incidents can range from failure to obey air traffic control instructions, resulting, for example, in improper presence on a runway for take-off or landing, or failure to maintain a proper distance between two airborne aircraft, creating the risk of a mid-air collision.

Writing in the latest safety report, aviation safety investigator Raz stated that "the past two years, in all probability, will be viewed in retrospect as a turning point for civil aviation in Israel in general and in flight safety in particular. In the safety reports, specifically from 2005 on, the office of the chief investigator warned of growing gaps between what was required by the advanced aviation world and the limited practical capability of the state through the Civil Aviation Administration to close these gaps." Raz noted that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration recent lowered Israel's aviation rating, but added that the downgrade reflected the FAA's desire to warn of Israel's limited capacity, in the view of the FAA, to comply with international standards, but not that Israeli civil aviation is unsafe. Raz did express concern, however, regarding oversight of the private plane sport aviation sector.

In response to an inquiry from Haaretz, El Al issued the following reaction: "El Al believes that a culture of reporting on incidents contributes to a culture of avoiding incidents. Therefore, the airline encourages reporting to the aviation authorities every incident or suspected incident. We believe that widespread reporting to all of the [relevant] parties also enables other airlines to learn from experience. Since El Al is the largest carrier in Israel, we believe that we can contribute to improve aviation safety in general. Therefore, we operate with full transparency in everything associated with flight safety. El Al views flight safety as of the highest importance and does not compromise on the matter in any way."

Among other Israeli carriers, Arkia, reported a decline in 2008 in safety-related incidents: 61 compared to 93 in 2007 and 95 in 2006. Israir was involved in 69 incidents in 2008; 82 in 2007; and 73 in 2006, whereas the cargo carrier, CAL, reported 78 incidents last year, representing an increase from 63 in 2007 and 56 in 2006.