Alert Air Controllers Prevent Tragedy at Ben Gurion Airport

Alert air traffic controllers prevented a tragedy at Ben Gurion Int'l Airport, stopping two planes from heading down the same runway.

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Chana Ya'ar,

Ben Gurion International Airport
Ben Gurion International Airport
Israel news photo: Yoni Kempinski

Alert air traffic controllers prevented a tragedy at Ben Gurion International Airport Monday afternoon, right after an extended three-day holiday weekend following Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

An Israir jetliner and a Ukrainian aircraft both began heading down the runway – both having apparently been given permission for takeoff at the same time.

Controllers stopped the planes, and then arranged an orderly takeoff for both.  Investigators have launched a probe into the incident, airport officials said.

Two weeks ago, another near miss was also averted when the pilot of a private jet did not notice an El Al plane arriving at Ben Gurion airport from Eilat. The collision was prevented by the flight inspector who warned the El Al flight crew that the private jet was only a mere 500 feet away.

Flight safety issues have been an ongoing area of concern at Ben Gurion. The airport's international flight safety status was downgraded in 2010.

The Knesset State Control Committee launched an investigation into the airport's security standards ten months ago to follow up a report by the State Comptroller regarding safety problems at the airport.

Nearly two years ago, investigators blamed air controllers in a near-collision between an El Al Boeing 737 and a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400. The El Al plane was preparing to take off, just as the Lufthansa aircraft began its descent towards the same runway.

In January 2009, Israel began a massive NIS 9.5 million overhaul of its air safety operations. The upgrade came in response to a downgrade of its international flight safety rating by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The downgrade dropped Ben Gurion airport into Category 2 at the time, rating it with airports in Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Ukraine, Honduras and Bulgaria.

More than two million tourists have visited Israel since January, most of whom came through Ben Gurion airport.