Contaminated Fuel Discovered in Three Plants Prepping for Takeoff

Although most departures from Israel Ben-Gurion Airport have taken off on schedule, contamination leads to delay of several flights.

The fuel contamination crisis continued to delay outgoing flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport Tuesday, with the discovery of contaminated fuel in three plans preparing for takeoff to Belgium, Germany and Spain.

Fueling at the airport had restarted at 8 P.M. on Monday evening but was halted less than five hours later, shortly after midnight on Tuesday morning.

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The fuel tanks of the Belgian flight needed to be drained and refueled from a tanker, and the flight then took off after a delay. Fuel was changed in the other two flights as well, but as the crews finished their working hours the flights were delayed considerably more.

Two more flights bound for the U.S. left late as well, because the fuel tests continued for longer than anticipated.

Two more planes - a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt and an Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna - were forced to land and refuel in Larnaka, Cyprus, so as to be able to takeoff from Ben-Gurion airport later. Both return flights were consequently two hours late.

"I was waiting in line for the security check, which was stuck despite there being very few passengers," said Michal Regev, a marketing director in a high-tech company on her way to a business trip in Vienna. "I approached one of the officials and asked him what was happening. He tried to dodge the question for a while but eventually admitted there were problems with the fuel."

Tal Muskal, spokesman for Austrian Airlines proprietor Lufthansa Group, said that the delay happened because "on Monday evening, airlines were told that Ben-Gurion Airport resumed normal refueling operations. The Austrian Airlines flight therefore took off from Vienna with enough fuel to get to Israel. However, another flight of the group was stuck here overnight, and a decision was made to land the Austrian Airlines flight in Larnaka to refuel ahead of its return trip to Vienna. This layover delayed the flight's landing at Ben-Gurion and subsequent takeoff back to Vienna.

"We apologize for the delay and inconvenience, which was not caused through any fault of ours," Muskal added.

The decision to resume normal refueling operations, pending sample tests by the Air Force, was taken Monday afternoon, at a meeting chaired by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. Also taking part were the ministry's director general, Dan Harel; chairman of the Israel Airports Authority board Ovadia Ali; IAA director Kobi Mor; and expert Dr. Yoseffa Ben Asher.

The forum decided to have the planes refueled with the fuel stored at Ben-Gurion. The decision was made based on a new opinion by Dr. Ben Asher, the same expert whose initial estimate brought the airport to a halt last week. In her new opinion Dr. Ben Asher distinguished between the fuel before it was filtered - and could conceivably be polluted - and the fuel that was filtered through into the aircraft, which she believed would be clean.

A mobile Air Force lab was asked to test samples from the tanks of every flight due to leave the airport, and this is how pollution was discovered on Monday night.

In response, the IAA said that only the fuel in two out of 38 flights tested for pollution was feared to be polluted, and the jets were emptied and refueled again, with fuel that was found to be clean beyond any doubt.

"Within two days all the fuel currently at the airport's disposal will be replaced," the statement said. "The airport awaits the findings of an inquiry commission assigned by the National Infrastructure Ministry, which is supposed to find the source of the pollution in the fuel supply and finally resolve the problem."