Police, Fire Service Threaten to Delay Southern Airport Opening Over Lack of Budgets

Firefighters and police cite distance from potential reinforcements in stating need for extensive presence at new Timna airport

A worker directs machinery being used to build the new airport in Timna, May 3, 2016.
David Bachar

The new airport at Timna in the south will not open unless the police and fire department get enough money to erect a proper police station and fire station at the site, the two services warned Wednesday. The airport is meant to open at the end of the year.

The head of the planning department in the Public Security Ministry issued a memo in which he called on Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to formulate a clear ministry policy that the airport will not open unless the demands of the police and firefighters are met and sufficient resources are allocated toward building and operating the stations. The airport is named for the late Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who was killed when the Space Shuttle Columbia crashed in 2003, and his son, Assaf, an air force pilot killed in a 2009 training accident.

The Israel Airports Authority has allocated eight dunams (2 acres) at the entrance to the airport for the fire station, but no one has determined who is supposed to pay for its construction. The Public Security Ministry has made it clear that it is not responsible for funding any part of the airport project, and that “without budgetary support, there will be no permit to open the airport.”

The fire service is demanding nine million shekels ($2.6 million) in preliminary funding for erecting the building, another 15 million shekels for one-time expenses, and then 35 million shekels annually for salaries, vehicle maintenance, overtime and the purchase of special equipment. The Israel Police is demanding 14 million shekels for setting up the station and another 18 million shekels a year for operating expenses. The positions of the security services and the ministry have been submitted to the acting head of the National Security Council for a decision.

The fire service argues that the location of the Ramon airport, 10 kilometers north of Eilat, requires that extensive arrangements be made on site.

“At Ben-Gurion [Airport], if a passenger plane with a suspected malfunction is landing, an emergency situation is declared and in less than an hour large forces of police, MDA [ambulance service] and the police from throughout the center of the country are prepared to respond if the situation gets complicated,” a senior firefighter said. “At Ramon, because of its location, we have no such response; we don’t have large forces in Eilat. If there’s an emergency at the Ramon Airport we have no reinforcements for at least seven hours.”

Moreover, once the airport is fully operational, there must also be a response to road accidents, warehouse fires, or other possible multi-casualty situations.

“We can’t supply the budget for setting up the arrangements at Ramon because we don’t have it,” said another senior firefighting official. “The Israel Airports Authority was given a budget to build an airport and it has the obligations to bring budgetary sources for everything connected to the Ramon Airport.”

The Israel Airports Authority argues that they followed all the directives of the NSC and the Prime Minister’s Office, which instructed it to allocate land and prepare infrastructure for the operation of the security services. Senior authority officials said that the Public Security Ministry should be asking the treasury or whatever other agency to supply funding for the security arrangements.

Meanwhile, the fire service is also threatening to reopen its agreement with the airports authority with regard to Ben Gurion Airport. The firefighters claim that the state signed a “humiliating” agreement with the authority, which pays 650,000 a year for firefighting services, while the amount necessary is 10 million shekels, which the fire service charges any company, business or agency for the same services.