Airport-fuel Contamination Could Have Been Prevented

The committee appointed to examine the recent incident in which contaminated jet fuel shut down Ben-Gurion International Airport in early May finds the contamination had accumulated for years in fuel pipelines.

The situation in which contaminated jet fuel shut down Ben-Gurion International Airport in early May could have been prevented if all those involved in supplying it had implemented the recommendations of a 2005 investigative panel. This is the conclusion of the committee appointed by National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, which examined the recent incident. The 2005 committee was established in the wake of a similar incident.

The present committee presented its final report to Landau Sunday. It stated, among other things, that the contamination had accumulated for years in fuel pipelines. The report said there was no evidence that the latter had been cleaned in the past decade, and thus the recommendation was made that periodic cleaning and maintenance - as suggested by the 2005 panel - would probably significantly reduce the accumulation of contaminated materials.

Blaming no one

The contaminants clogged the pipes and fuel systems in planes fueling at Ben-Gurion airport, and as a result almost all flights to and from Israel were stopped for some days.

The committee avoided blaming anyone specifically for non-implementation of the earlier recommendations - although the Infrastructure Ministry had responsibility for carrying them out. The panel also refrained from blaming Paz Oil and its subsidiaries, which supplied the fuel. Indeed, the source of the contamination - a substance that is similar to polyethylene, the polymer used in items such as plastic bags - was found in the Ashdod Oil Refineries, owned by Paz, in the filters near the point where the fuel exited the site. There was no contamination found, however, in the filters of the refineries in Haifa.

The committee, which was headed by the director of the fuel administration in the Infrastructure Ministry, Hen Bar-Yosef, determined that the substance clogging the filters at the pipeline entering Ben-Gurion also contained metal filings and burnt materials, which came from the storage facilities and pipelines at the airport. Materials coming from filters that had begun to deteriorate in Paz's jet-fuel storage facilties at the airport were also found among the contaminants.

The accumulation of contaminated substances in Paz's filters at the entrance to the airport's fuel supply system caused the accelerated wear and tear - and thus replacement - of the filters. The result was that there was a shortage of filters after the airport was shut down, in the wake of the contamination.

The airport's fuel systems are not prepared to deal with problems of such proportions, reported the committee.

The panel recommended implementing the 2005 committee's conclusions - by the end of 2013. It also proposed a number of steps to improve the monitoring of jet-fuel quality at the airport, including cleaning of all the fuel tanks every four years and of the pipelines every three years.

In addition, there was a suggestion for an additional tank system to be built at the airport to provide an alternate supply of fuel. Paz should keep an adequate supply of jet fuel on hand, and should also construct a proper system for monitoring and documentation in real time, the committee stated.

Second committee, second report

On Sunday Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz also accepted recommendations - by another committee. This one examined the aviation-related aspects of the fuel-contamination debacle in May, and was headed by the director general of the Transportation Ministry, Dan Harel.

This committee reported that not a single plane was affected by the contaminated fuel, as the filtering system at the airport kept the contaminants out of the pipes connected to the aircraft.

The committee also drafted a long list of recommendations to the Israel Airports Authority on how to prevent future incidents - and how to respond to such events, should they occur.

The Israel Airports Authority said it had received the report and would act to implement its recommendations.