Arkia Flight Lands on Wrong Runway at Ovda Airport

A serious breach of flight safety occurred on February 8 at Ovda Airport in the southern Negev, when an Arkia aircraft landed on the wrong runway, Haaretz has learned. A joint Israel Air Force-Transportation Ministry team is investigating the incident.

The Israel Airports Authority announced yesterday that following pressure from civilian airlines it would not be implementing a planned closure for runway maintenace and improvement.

A Boeing 757 aircraft arriving at the airport to pick up soldiers landed by mistake on a runway used to move aircraft on the ground, where ground vehicles and soldiers are often located. The incident occurred during a storm, with very poor visibility conditions.

Arkia ferries soldiers to and from Ovda under contract to the Defense Ministry.

"This was another serious safety incident; it was a miracle there was no loss of life or property," a senior figure in the aviation industry said.

The military airport at Ovda is also used for civilian aircraft that cannot land at the Eilat Airport because of their size. The control tower is manned by IAF personnel.

"No damage was done. The Transportation Ministry is looking into the actions of the control tower personnel and the crew," Arkia said in a response.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office said it had no comment because the investigation is ongoing.

In postponing the planned April closure the Israel Airports Authority gave in to pressure from civilian airlines, first and foremost El Al. The airlines were to have diverted their flights to Eilat, but the city's airport cannot accommodate the wide-bodied aircraft the companies' operate.

The announcement of closure, which would have come at the height of the Passover charter flight season, prodded the civilian airlines into their successful campaign to postpone the closure.

"In light of the impending flight schedule and requests from the airlines, the Israel Airports Authority today informed the airlines that Ovda would continue in operation in April 2009 according to the planned schedule," The Israel Airports Authority said.