Changed Flight Paths Mean Sleepless Nights in Rishon and Holon

Residents of Rishon Letzion and Holon have complained that in recent months the number of aircraft taking off from Ben-Gurion International Airport has increased, making it difficult for them to sleep at night.

According Rishon Letzion councilwoman Yifat Meirowitz-Yefet, who holds the municipality's environmental portfolio in the city, in the past month the city has received 1,500 complaints about noise levels, compared to only 116 during a similar period last year.

The Israel Airports Authority said in response that as of Sunday many changes in flight paths have been introduced and residents "are already noticing the improvement in noise levels."

The authority also said that there is a ban on takeoffs from 1:40 A.M.-5:50 A.M. in the winter and from 1:40-4:50 in the summer. "This is binding and only in unusual circumstances are takeoffs authorized during these hours. In any case, these are a handful among 4,000 take-offs each month."

Rishon Mayor Dov Tzur and his aides called on citizens to call in their complaints on aircraft noise in real time, particularly when it happens during the hours when takeoffs are prohibited. "That way the municipality would be better positioned to keep accurate tabs of violations and would not have to rely solely on data provided by the Airports Authority," Tzur said.

The route change occurred due to work carried out on one of the airport runways. Meirowitz-Yefet says that according to the repair plan Rishon was not scheduled to suffer from increased noise as a result of the work until April 2010.

"Suddenly the takeoffs began toward the east. Without any warning or real reason, since the repairs had not even began, they started sending aircraft over the neighborhoods of northern and eastern Rishon Letzion," she said.

The municipality also claims that for months it has not received noise reports for city's western neighborhoods due to a radar malfunction. The Airports Authority said that the radar that monitors noise was replaced and has been working for the past month, but that records were not kept for the period when it was inoperable.

Meirowitz-Yefet claims that because the noise problem is relatively new to Rishon's eastern neighborhoods there are no data available for them, even though such records were promised to them six months ago.

At a meeting this week with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Holon Mayor Moti Sasson said that he "is unable to sleep at night because of the noise of aircraft."

Yeruham Isgur, who heads environmental projects in Holon, told Haaretz that in recent years there are more aircraft passing over the city at night despite the imposition of restrictions in 1997 as part of the Ben-Gurion Airport 2000 plan. The ban on takeoffs between 1:40 A.M. and 5:50 A.M. was part of that plan.

"There's never been a period like this," Isgur said. "Officially there should have been no flights, but every time there are different excuses for the aircraft taking off. Gradually, they let more and more aircraft take off. Now we are in a situation in which there are nearly no off-times. It has been a while since we have been able to sleep at night. I receive complaints daily," Isgur said.

"On the issue of why there are violations [on take-off hour limits] we receive no clear answers," Tzur said. "We will monitor this on our own, and we will collect data and take appropriate steps. Unfortunately this smells of unreliability on the part of the Airports Authority, which is not meeting the agreements."