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Fri, Jun 08, 2007

Pirate Radio Signal Disrupts TLV Tower Communications

Airlines, Pilot Union Accuse Government Of Inaction

Israel's Transport Minister, Shaul Mofaz, said he planned to call an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the problem of pirate radio transmissions disrupting tower communications at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.

An illegal radio station in the West Bank city of Ramallah that was the cause of serious disruptions was located and closed down Thursday, said Communications Minister Ariel Attias. But, interference is still occurring.

Mofaz, currently on a trip to the US, said he would demand harsher penalties for pirate radio operators as disruptions continued, forcing controllers to wait 10 minutes between each take-off as a safety precaution, according to Haaretz. Departing flights had been completely suspended Wednesday because of the inability to communicate.

IAI director Gabi Ophir closed the airport again at 11:30 pm Thursday night because of the tower's inability to effectively communicate. The airport ordinarily closes to departures between 1:40 am and 5:30 am for nighttime noise prevention.

The situation has caused the cancellation of a multitude of flights from such airlines as Bristish Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and KLM.

Officials at several of the airlines reportedly voiced disappointment at Israel's failure to adequately deal with the problem. The head of Swiss International Airlines 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."

Airport Authority workers threatened to strike over the radio interference. The strike was averted Wednesday after negotiations. The union's plan was to completely shut down the airport between 8 am and 5 pm Thursday.

The national airport worker union had also threatened labor action if something was not done to stop radio piracy. The union claims relevant ministries and law enforcement agencies are not doing anything to avert a potential disaster.

Boaz Hativa, head of the national pilots union, wrote a letter to the ministers of transportation, communications, justice and public security, warning of the dangers of not taking action to rectify the situation.

"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," he wrote.

"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."

The Communications Ministry said Wednesday it was working with the justice and public security ministries "to eradicate the phenomenon of pirate radio stations" and has shut down 50 of the illegal stations so far this year.

The issue of pirate radio broadcasts interfering with ATC transmissions isn't limited to Israel. ANN reported last year on similar incidents in Ireland and Miami.

FMI: www.iaa.gov.il/Rashat/en-US/Airports/BenGurion, www.moc.gov.il

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