Israel Air Safety Concerns: 8 Passenger Jets Deviated From Flight Level in Last 2 Months

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Airplanes parked at Ben-Gurion International Airport.Credit: Nir Keidar

Eight flight safety incidents have occurred near Ben-Gurion International Airport over the last two months, all caused by the same problem: passenger planes deviating from their approved altitude and approach path to the airport.

The most recent incident took place on March 4, but the Transportation Ministry’s chief air accident inspector, Yitzhak Raz, reported it only this week.

The incident involved a passenger plane operated by EasyJet that was arriving from Rome. It was assigned an approach path by the airport, but as it neared, an air traffic controller noticed that the plane was flying too low, at only 4,500 feet instead of 5,000 feet.

The controller queried the pilot about the approach, and the pilot’s response revealed that he was taking a path different than the one he had been assigned. Also, he was flying on instruments rather than using a visual approach. In any case, the controller let him continue using the approach he had started.

Over the weekend, Raz reported on two other incidents in which passenger planes flew too low during their approach to Ben-Gurion. Aside from those two, he said there had been five similar incidents since February 4, including four that occurred in the space of just two days.

The February 4 incident involved an Alitalia passenger plane, a Boeing 777. This was the crew’s first flight to Ben-Gurion, and the pilots did not obey the control tower’s landing instructions.

Instead of flying at 4,500 feet, they crossed the coastline at a height of only 4,200 feet. In addition, they deviated to the southeast from their assigned approach path.

The next incident occurred on February 19, when an Aeroflot passenger plane, an Airbus A-321, was approaching. As in the February 4 case, the plane crossed the coastline at only 4,200 feet, some 300 feet lower than the control tower’s instructions.

The crews of both planes were questioned by the Israel Airports Authority’s safety inspectors upon landing, and their answers were passed on to Raz, along with other relevant data such as radar and audio tapes from the planes.

In his report, Raz wrote that he decided to investigate these accidents “not because of the severity of any one incident, but out of an understanding of the safety potential of the accumulation of these incidents, in light of the limitations of the solution that is supposed to prevent their occurrence, insofar as is possible, with an emphasis on the approach procedures at Ben-Gurion.”

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