Despite Fuel Crisis, Israel Has Enough Supplies to Renew All Flights

Head of Ben-Gurion International Airport says all grounded flights are set to take off using fuel from Israel's emergency supplies, following a mysterious contamination that brought Israel's air traffic to a grinding halt on Thursday.

It was not clear when a fuel crisis that has disrupted flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport would end, the airport's chief official said on Friday, adding, however, that takeoffs and landings are resuming thanks to an emergency supply of fuel.

Commercial air traffic out of Israel was shut down on Thursday after airplane fuel at Ben-Gurion International Airport was found to be contaminated. From 1 P.M. all flights out of the country were halted, stranding tens of thousands of passengers.

airport - AP - May 6 2011

However, most air traffic had been resumed by Friday morning, with the aid of emergency jet fuel supplies, used to fuel grounded airliners enough to get them to nearby fuelling locations in Cyprus and Jordan.

"The end to the crisis is not yet known," said Ben-Gurion Airport manager Shmuel Kandel on Friday, saying that samples of the contaminated fuel have been sent to a German lab, with results expected within a few hours.

Currently, only eleven out of the twenty three flights originally grounded are still held in Ben-Gurion Airport, with ground crews laboring on exchanging the fuel on those planes as well.

"There are still planes on the ground, but they will be emptied of fuel and refueled. There's no shortage of fuel, there's enough to send off all flights," Kandel said.

About 30 tankers filled with fuel from Israel's emergency supplies in Pi Glilot were brought to the airport overnight, a move which enabled the release of all of the stranded flights, the last of which departed at 3 A.M.

Speaking of the possibility that the airport's gas supplies were maliciously contaminated, Kandel said late Thursday that testing has revealed that the cause of the contamination was not sabotage or terrorism.

However, the source of the pollutant is still unknown at this time, Kandel said.

Kandel ordered a halt to the refueling of aircraft after getting word from the firm Aviation Assets, a Paz subsidiary, which supplies fuel to the airport's fuel pipeline, that it had found contaminants in the fuel. Fueling of aircraft at the country's other domestic airports was also halted.

Initial concerns about aircraft fuel supplies arose about two weeks ago, when it was noticed that the fuel filters on trucks supplying fuel to aircraft were clogging.

Concerns have been expressed, however, that the contamination problem has affected not only fuel supplied to the airport but is also more widespread in the country's fuel supply.