Report: Violations Involving Ultra-light Planes Bordering Criminal Wrongdoing

Safety in the field of ultra-light aircraft in Israel is shoddy to the point that a recent report by the Transportation Ministry is raising concerns of criminal wrongdoing.

A new report received by Haaretz and prepared by the Transportation Ministry's chief air accident investigator, Yitzhak Raz, says there is evidence of illegal collaboration between the owners of these aircraft, commercial firms, the centers where the aircraft are checked, and civil aviation controllers. Moreover, the report points to faulty maintenance at the depots specializing in such work, and to intentional irregularities in pilot conduct and violations that were either perpetrated with the aid of air traffic controllers or went unreported.

The report states that all these factors combined have given rise to a very grave situation that threatens the lives of pilots, trainees and passengers of ultra-light aircraft.

One such casualty passed away last month, succumbing to injuries sustained during an accident with an ultra-light plane.

The extensive investigation into the field of ultra-light aircraft in Israel began in the wake of an accident that occurred three months ago, at the Rishon Letzion landing strip. The accident involved a Sierra P2002 type ultra-light aircraft, carrying a pilot and a senior civil air aviation authority official, traveling as a passenger. The aircraft took off with insufficient fuel and on its landing approach crashed into a tree, approximately 140 meters before the runway. The aircraft was badly damaged but the pilot and passenger managed to escape unharmed.

"In light of the initial evidence collected, I decided to expand the investigation ... I met with senior officials in the ultra-light aircraft association and convinced them to provide me with nearly all the information - including some that was incriminating - to allow me to investigate the matter fully and to offer professional solutions to regulate the activities of ultra-light aircraft," Raz writes in his report.

"During the investigation we uncovered dozens of cases involving conscious violations from the flight regulations, violations that were assisted by civil aviation controllers, or which were simply ignored," Raz adds.

10 accidents a year

The Transportation Ministry investigates more than 10 air accidents involving ultra-light aircraft on an annual basis, many of them blamed on the poor maintenance of the equipment.

In his report, Raz points the finger at the authorities, too, saying that, "The state authority in charge of order in the field [of ultra-light aviation] directly or indirectly implemented those same problematic and mistaken actions ... In the absence of an agreed-upon limit, the situation deteriorated into a terrible and embarrassing reality."

In response to a Haaretz inquiry, Giora Rom, head of Israel's Civil Aviation Authority, said that, "I read the report, which makes many grave observations, but does not provide anything concrete. The ultra-light field has not been properly addressed, but that should not come as a surprise, because nothing has been dealt with properly in the Civil Aviation Authority. Who cares whether it's the ultra-lights or other aircraft? This is not an excuse. I have come to fix the Civil Aviation Authority."

The report lists a number of substantive violations: cheating about the aircraft's weight; false checks on air speed equipment; using parts of aircraft that suffered accidents; locally producing equipment without the necessary approvals; complex structural repairs without the required engineering expertise; changes or additions to existing components without proper authorization.

The chief air accident investigator is particularly concerned with the fact that many of the problems he discovered are "obvious for all to see." For example, he points to the obvious cheating about an aircraft's weight, and forgeries that can easily be discovered by checking the manufacturers' Web sites.

Raz also points to the growing number of new aircraft whose aerodynamic features and structure are unmistakable. "These modern aircraft are produced at an empty weight of 310-350 kilograms, which is 30 percent higher than the empty weight allowed by the Civil Aviation Authority." The cruising airspeed of such aircraft is also substantially higher than permitted under Israeli law.

These aircraft were given the necessary permits "in various ways, contrary to the requirements of the law," Raz alleges.