Probe Into 2Nd Near-accident With Pilot Over 65

A second serious safety incident involving a pilot over age 65 is being investigated by Israel's aviation authorities, Haaretz has learned.

This incident occurred at Uvda Airport in the Negev in February, on a domestic flight of the Arkia airline. The pilot, who was captain of the flight, landed in the wrong place: Instead of the runway used for landings, he brought the plane down on another one nearby that is used only for moving aircraft on the ground.

Since there are often vehicles or people on that runway, only luck prevented a serious accident. Poor visibility may have contributed to the error, as the weather was stormy and hazy that day.

Last week, Haaretz reported that an El Al pilot over age 65 was involved in a serious safety incident at Ben-Gurion International Airport last month. In that incident, the pilot, who was serving as first officer, erroneously moved his passenger plane onto a runway in preparation for takeoff just as another passenger plane, from Uzbekistan Air, was about to land there.

In the Arkia incident, the plane was empty as it was coming to pick up soldiers from a nearby military base.

"Two serious safety incidents involving pilots over age 65 ought to arouse concern," said an aviation expert familiar with both incidents. "They underscore the question of whether pilots remain fit for this job after this age."

Most countries ban commercial pilots from flying after age 65, but Israel raised the limit to 67 last year. On international flights, authorities allow pilots over age 65 to serve only as first officers, but on domestic flights, they can also be the captains.

Boaz Hativa, chairman of the Israel Pilots Association, notes, however, that other Western countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, also allow pilots over age 65 to continue serving as captains. He added that while both of the recent incidents are still under investigation, it so far seems as if neither mistake had anything to do with the pilot's age.