Lack of Israeli Aviation Safety Could Cause Disaster Worse Than Carmel Fire

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration downgrades Israel's flight safety standard.

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The writing has long been on the wall with regard to flight safety in Israel. A single aviation disaster could dwarf the Carmel fire in its outcome. The crash of a single aircraft at Ben-Gurion International Airport, or a mid-air collision between two passenger planes, would claim many more victims than the forest fire in the north.

Just as the inadequacies of the country's firefighting services were known to the country's leaders for years, so too are the lapses in aviation safety. The December 2007 report by a committee appointed by then-Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and headed by former Israel Air Force Commander Amos Lapidot made 75 recommendations concerning correction of major problems in civil aviation safety.

Rescue workers practicing for an aviation disaster at Ben-Gurion International Airport last month.Credit: Alon Ron

The Lapidot committee found the safety at Ben-Gurion airport inadequate due to the structure of its runways, security restrictions and limited airspace. The final report criticized the infrastructure at the airport and its air-traffic control system, adding that Israel has not yet experienced the technological developments of the last decades in the latter field. They called for increased supervision of the air-traffic control system and better training of its personnel, many of whom do not always speak in English or use the proper terminology.

A State Comptroller's report issued just two months ago noted that of the 75 recommendations by the Lapidot panel, 15 had not been implemented at all and 31 were implemented only partially or are still in the process, despite the fact that nearly three years had passed since their publication.

In December 2008 the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Israel's aviation safety standard rating to Category 2, putting it in the company of failed states, due to the noncompliance of the local Civil Aviation Authority with International Civil Aviation Organization standards in eight different areas. These include primary and secondary legislation, and deficiencies in licensing, technical expertise and monitoring, and enforcement.

The Aviation Law, dating from 1927, has not been adapted to today's international standards, according to the Lapidot report, and was among the reason's for the FAA downgrade of Israel's safety ranking. Failure to update the law has impeded the CAA's ability to comply with international safety standards, damaged aviation performance and hurt aviation safety.

In November 2007 draft amendments to the 1927 law were circulated, but it was not until the downgrading by the FAA that the authorities moved to push through the new legislation. In November 2009 the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill, which is now in the Knesset Economics Committee.

The crux of Israel's aviation problems, however, lies in the country's small size and, perforce, its limited airspace, which must serve the needs of private, commercial and business travelers, cargo aircraft and, of course, the military. The latter effectively controls the airspace. A panel with representatives from the civil and military aviation authorities was to have issued recommendations aimed at anchoring the civil-military aviation relationship in law by October 2008, but has so far failed to do so.

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