Report: Ovda Airport Not Fit for Int'l Aviation

Ovda International Airport is not fully qualified to be used by international airlines due to a variety of safety hazards, according to an Israeli investigation of a near-accident nine months ago. Ovda, which is in the Negev in the south, is Israel's second-largest airport and serves local and international flights.

The accident in question occurred in February, when a plane landed on a runway for taxiing instead of a landing strip. According to the investigation, however, the pilots and flight controllers shared part of the blame.

"All security lines were broken in this incident," writes Yithak Raz, the chief investigator for air accidents at the Transportation Ministry. "The only reason this incident didn't result in a major accident was a lot of luck."

An empty Dash 7 aircraft of Arkia Israel Airlines tried to land at Ovda on February 10 amid poor visibility and strong winds. The plane was arriving to pick up a group of soldiers.

According to the report, the pilots began their approach to the westernmost of three parallel runways. The pilots realized they were heading for the wrong runway and asked the control tower for permission to land on the central one. The air traffic controller accepted the request.

When the plane landed, the air traffic controller, and later the crew, realized that the landing had taken place on the easternmost runway, reserved for military aviation. Groups of soldiers and military vehicles were crossing the runway shortly before the landing.

"Ovda Airport is a limited alternative international airport for Ben-Gurion International Airport. The reason for the limitation are its incompatibility with the regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization," the report said.

"The airport's shortcomings include the level of its firefighting service, runway lighting" and poor capabilities to descend using instruments.

The report noted that although a special instrument landing system had been purchased for Ovda more than a year ago, negotiations on its installation were not yet complete, "epitomizing the lack of a decision-making procedure in such matters."

The report recommends that the markings and lighting on Ovda's runways be improved, that an instrument landing system be installed on at least two runways, and that the use of the airport be linked to the capabilities of its firefighting service.

The Israel Airports Authority said in a statement that the report makes no reference to civil regulations. "Implementing the recommendation requires instructions from the Civil Aviation Authority, but the IAA will implement any such recommendation if instructed," the authority said.