Airport Tragedy Averted as Civilian, Military Aircrafts Nearly Collide

Second incident in 2009 at Ovda airport nearly ended in frontal collision between the 2 planes.

The civil and military aviation authorities are investigating a serious flight safety incident that occurred a month ago at the Ovda airport in the Negev, involving a civilian aircraft and a military aircraft.

The incident, which nearly ended in a frontal collision between the two aircrafts, was the second serious incident to take place at Ovda airport during 2009, Haaretz learned over the weekend.

The near-collision currently under investigation involved an Arkia passenger aircraft and an Israel Air Force King Air 200, both turboprop aircraft.

The civilian aircraft was preparing to land at the airport to pick up soldiers, as part of an arrangement with the Defense Ministry by which the airline delivers soldiers to and from the base. The military aircraft was also on approach to land at the airport.

At some point the two aircraft were at the same altitude, on the same heading, flying toward each other - only several hundred meters separating them from a mid-air collision. The pilots quickly undertook emergency measures and avoided a crash: One pilot veered to the right while the other climbed to a higher altitude.

A senior civil aviation official familiar with the details of the incident told Haaretz "this was a very serious failure in flight safety and could have ended in an accident."

An IDF spokesman told Haaretz "This incident was investigated by the air force and its conclusions and recommendations were adopted by the force. The distance between the aircraft was great and the likelihood of a crash between the two was not great."

In February 2009 another incident occurred at Ovda airport, in which a civilian aircraft, also belonging to Arkia, landed on the wrong runway - and where Israel Defense Forces vehicles and soldiers were in motion.

Following the investigation, the chief air accident investigator at the Ministry of Transportation, Yitzhak Raz, issued a report noting that the airport was not fully capable of handling civilian air traffic.

"The Ovda airport is an alternative international airfield to Ben-Gurion Airport, but is limited because it only partially meats the requirements of the ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization]," Raz wrote.

Among Ovda's shortcomings are its level of fire-fighting capabilities, available runway lighting and the lack of means for a landing approach using only instruments. Raz was also critical of the fact that while an Instrument Landing System (ILS) had been acquired for the automatic landing of aircraft, it has still not been installed.