Ministers Avert Planned Airport Strike Over Pirate Radio Problem

The threatened strike by Israel Airport Authority workers was averted last night after negotiations between union and government officials. The workers had intended to shut down Ben-Gurion International Airport today between 8 A.M. and 5 P.M. to protest disruptions caused by pirate radio broadcasts to control tower communications. Instead, they will halt work whenever there are such disruptions.

The strike was called off after Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini spoke with Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, and after Communications Minister Ariel Attias promised to come to Ben-Gurion airport today in order to resolve the problem.

The cancelled El Al flights remain canceled.

The airport workers' union is slated to convene this afternoon to decide on further steps.

All departing flights were suspended yesterday afternoon because pirate radio signals were severely disrupting air-traffic controllers' efforts to communicate with planes.

Before IAI director Gabi Ophir grounded all outgoing traffic, flights taking off were being delayed by 10-minute safety intervals imposed between takeoffs.

The national union of airport workers had previously threatened labor action if nothing was done to clamp down on radio piracy. The union claims that relevant ministries and law enforcement agencies are doing nothing to put a stop to the dangerous situation and avert an aviation disaster waiting to happen.

Ophir originally ordered that the airport remain open through last night for airlines wishing to move up their departures before the strike begins in the morning. Ben-Gurion is ordinarily closed for departures between 1:40 A.M and 5:30 A.M. to prevent noise pollution from aircraft taking off. However, after renewed disruptions by pirate radio stations last evening, Ophir announced around 11 P.M. that the airport would be closed again to air traffic.

Officials at foreign airlines in Israel were livid yesterday at the failure to deal with the problem. Swiss International Airlines head in Israel Avner Gordon told Haaretz: "Before opening the skies up to competition and bringing cheap airlines to Israel, you have to deal with the existing infrastructure. A nice, efficient terminal is not enough; you also have to make sure the planes take off safely from the runways."

The head of the national pilots union, Boaz Hativa, wrote to the ministers of transportation, communications, justice and public security and warned of the dangers of continued inaction in this matter and demanded that the authorities put an immediate end to the pirate broadcasts and prevent their resumption.

The Communications Ministry issued a statement yesterday announcing that the minister is taking steps, in concert with the ministries of justice and public security, in an effort to eradicate the phenomenon of pirate radio stations. The ministry said it has shut down 50 illegal stations since the beginning of this year, and intends to continue working on this matter.

Mofaz, who is on a trip to the United States, said that he will bring the matter to the cabinet meeting on Sunday and demand that criminal proceedings be brought against the perpetrators.