Probe Extended into Near Mid-air Collisions over Lydda Airport

A series of narrowly avoided mid-air collisions over Lydda Airport–the most recent involving an El Al transport carrying Premier Golda Meir to the United States–has led to a full scale investigation of allegedly serious safety shortcomings at Israel’s only International air terminal. Minister of Transport Shimon Peres appointed a committee of aviation experts to investigate the incident two weeks ago when Mrs. Meir’s plane and its escort of Four Phantom Jet fighters, almost collided with an Israeli transport plane shortly after taking off from Lydda. The incident was disclosed a week after it occurred, leading to charges by the Israeli Airline Pilots Association that the Ministry was trying to hush up the affair. According to the newspaper Maariv, there have been 58 complaints of near accidents in local airspace since the beginning of 1970.

Israeli air investigators said the number would have been higher if the pilots had reported all cases, Maariv reported, Of the 58 complaints, 46 involved near collisions between civilian airliners and military planes and 12 were between Israeli and foreign civilian airliners, the paper said. The most serious occurrence was last July 8 when an El Al Boeing 707 jet nearly collided with a BOAC VC-10. The El Al captain complained that only at the last minute did the Lydda control tower instruct the British jet to change course. Pilots blame the situation on the fact that Lydda has only one international landing strip. They also cited a shortage of navigation equipment in the Lydda control tower, poor discipline of the personnel and the need for stricter procedures to be followed by the control tower and planes. Mr. Peres has since announced that his ministry will spend $8 million in the next few years on sophisticated electronic equipment and navigational aids at Lydda.

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