Radio Disruptions at B-G Airport Caused by W. Bank Pirate Station

Authorities shut down illegal Ramallah station; air traffic control still experiencing some radio interference.

An illegal radio station operating out of the West Bank city of Ramallah caused interference in communications between Ben Gurion International Airport's control tower and the airplanes.

Communications Minister, Ariel Attias said the station had been found and closed down on Thursday. Despite this, some further interference was experienced by the control tower.

Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz said Thursday that he would call for an urgent cabinet meeting in order to discuss the pirate radio transmissions which have been causing disturbances in air traffic control communications at Ben Gurion airport, situated in Tel Aviv.

Disruptions continued on Thursday morning as the control tower was forced to wait 10 minutes between each take-off, as a safety precaution. These precautions are expected to cause delays in the departure of flights.

Mofaz said he would demand at the meeting harsher penalties for those transmitting from pirate radio stations that have been disrupting communications between the control towers and pilots.

A threatened strike by Airports Authority workers over the radio interference was averted Wednesday night after negotiations between union and government officials.

The workers had intended to shut down Ben-Gurion Airport between 8 A.M. and 5 P.M. Thursday to protest disruptions caused by pirate radio broadcasts to control tower communications. Instead, they decided to 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 on Thursday 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 on Wednesday 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.

El Al had informed passengers that all of its flights until 7.45 A.M. would take off as scheduled. However, the airline was forced to cancel two flights that were scheduled to leave this morning. Flight 315 was supposed to take off for London at 10:15 A.M., and flight 007 was supposed to depart for to New York at 10:40. El Al also pushed up fligh 323 to Paris from 9 A.M. to 7 A.M. These flights remained canceled.

Lufthansa Airlines announced that its morning flight, at 5:30 A.M., would depart as planned from Ben-Gurion.

Officials at foreign airlines in Israel were livid on Wednesday 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.

"To the best of my knowledge the pirate stations can be located and closed before disruptions are caused to the communications system. For reasons not entirely clear to me, this does not happen. In practice, the stations are closed only in retrospect, after the disruption to communications and the inherent risk to air traffic," Hativa wrote to the ministers.

"It is the Communications Ministry's job to locate the pirate stations and the police's job to enforce the law, put a stop to the stations' operations and ensure that those responsible for their operating be brought to justice. These actions can and should be carried out in advance and before disruptions are caused to the communications system," Hativa said.

The Communications Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday 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.