Ben-Gurion Air Traffic Controllers Warn of Serious Safety Problems

A confidential internal document submitted by flight controllers at Ben-Gurion International Airport to the director of the Airports Authority warns of serious safety problems posing dangers to flights taking off and landing. The document, which Haaretz obtained yesterday calls for "urgent action."

Passenger movement in and out of Ben-Gurion stands today at 10 million per year, and is expected to climb to 16 million. "There is not enough room to fly all those passengers safely," the document states, "and certainly not 16 million passengers who will fly here in the future," it adds.

The document comes after two recent near-misses at Ben-Gurion. On Wednesday, a Continental Airlines plane was almost shot down after a communications glitch about 40 miles from Israel's coast. Last February, an Iberia and an El Al jet almost collided on landing.

The controllers noted the complexities of their work, directing both military and civilian air traffic, unmanned aircraft and helicopters. Other problems include outmoded technology and lack of training. "We want to be excellent controllers but we can't," the document states.

The document notes that the control tower is crowded, and "noise is insufferable, with flight plans flying all over." TV monitors and the tower's design obscure the view of the parking areas, the controllers wrote.

The Airports Authority said yesterday in response, "The management of the authority is very sensitive to every aspect of improving flight safety and the board of directors has approved the allocation of a large sum for 2007 for flight safely." The authority added that the incident in February was the result of the Iberia pilot's error; it was studied and recommendations were made. In addition, the authority said, a public committee has been appointed to examine air traffic infrastructure.