Despite Warnings, Ovda Foresees Rise in Airplane Traffic

Ovda Airport in the Negev expects a 27 percent rise in air traffic over the winter season, according to data from the Israel Airports Authority. Traffic is expected to increase even though a recent report by the Transportation Ministry said the airport is not fully qualified to be used by international airlines due to safety hazards.

Figures from the authority show that 606 flights (departures and arrivals) are expected from October to March, compared with 476 flights a year earlier. Passenger traffic would exceed 67,000 travelers, an increase of 28 percent over the 52,113 who flew in or out of the airport last winter.

Fifteen weekly flights from various locations in Europe are expected to land at Ovda and Eilat airports this winter.

From Moscow there will be four flights a week as well as weekly flights from St. Petersburg and Rostov in Russia; three flights a week from France; two flights a week from Helsinki; as well as one flight a week from Warsaw, Kiev, Talinn and London Luton Airport.

"Ovda Airport is an alternate international airport to Ben-Gurion International Airport, but it is limited due to its lack of full compatibility with service standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization such as firefighting and runway lighting," wrote the chief air traffic accident investigator, Yitzhak Raz.

"Ovda Airport's safety and mechanical flaws along with the absence of precise protocols for automated descent limit the civilian use of this airfield as an alternate international airport for flights in conditions of regular to limited visibility."

Raz said the airports authority had bought automated landing equipment more than a year ago, and installation had yet to be completed. This impairs safety, unnecessarily endangers planes landing and provides "a living example of what happens in the absence of decision-making mechanisms for resolving such issues."

The report was compiled after a mishap in which a passenger plane landed on a road normally used by passenger vehicles and the Israel Defense Forces.

Periodic monitoring

The airports authority declined to provide a comment, saying the report focuses on the Civil Aviation Authority.

The Civil Aviation Authority said it had "conducted periodic monitoring of the airport in December 2008, which found a number of flaws and deviations, before the incident. Since then, the Civil Aviation Authority has initiated several significant safety improvements at the airport."

It said restrictions were partially lifted after flaws were corrected and supervision improved. It said the runway lighting system had been repaired, along with the asphalt on large parts of the western runway.

It noted that according to the report, the incident was not caused by infrastructure problems at the airport.

"The runway map was updated at the initiative of the Civil Aviation Authority and adapted to match the existing situation, unconnected to the incident mentioned and under review," the aviation authority said.

The authority noted that Ovda is a military airfield operated for civil aviation by the Israel Airports Authority based on an order signed by the transportation and defense ministers.

The airfield's infrastructure was built for military use and is suitable "in the relevant places for civil aviation. The Civil Aviation Authority approves the airfield for civilian use and monitors it regularly, at its own initiative, all year long. The oversight and certification of infrastructure is conducted in accordance with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which publishes standards and recommendations, and each country's authority may deviate from them or adapt them .... by publicizing the matter and engaging in appropriate risk management. Ovda Airport's use is approved in accordance with the Civil Aviation Authority's guidelines and has an appropriate safety level."