Mofaz to Announce Formation of Aviation Safety Task Force

In an unprecedented move, the Transportation and Defense Ministries have formed a joint task force charged with examining ways to reduce air traffic safety hazards and to coordinate the sharing of Israel's limited air space between civilian and defense aviation.

Former Israel Air Force Commander General (res.) Amos Lapidot, who previously headed a commission of inquiry which probed safety lapses in Israel's aviation sector, has been chosen to lead the panel.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz is expected to announce the formation of the task force during Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting. Mofaz will also provide a report detailing the transportation ministry's steps in improving aviation safety and accident prevention.

According to the letter of intent, which bears the signatures of the directors general of both ministries, the committee will be responsible for reviewing air traffic settings at Ben-Gurion Airport as well as devising new flight routes for civilian aircraft that would decrease the risk of mid-air collision with IAF planes.

The task force will also tackle the issue of upgrading the Uvda military airport in the Negev, elevating its status to that of an auxiliary behind Ben-Gurion Airport; training military air traffic controllers in supervising civilian air traffic; and possibly providing Ben-Gurion air traffic control officials with Air Force radar feeds to aid in directing civilian airline traffic.

The panel will be required to submit its recommendations for the joint approval of the Defense and Transportation Ministry directors general by February 9, 2008.

Among those who will serve under Lapidot are Civil Aviation Authority director Udi Zohar; acting deputy director general of the Israel Airports Authority Uri Orlev; Defense Ministry official Oded Haglili; the head of the infrastructures division of the Defense Ministry's planning branch Colonel Gilo Khalifi; and IAF Colonel Hagi Topolansky.

According to a special report issued by experts from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration last month, the primary risk factor for air traffic accidents over Ben-Gurion is the lack of coordination between the civilian aviation authorities and the IAF as well as the poor cooperation among the civilian agencies, the IAA and the CAA.