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As Bulgaria and Israel Forge Ties, Snag Develops over Airport Security

Israel and Bulgaria, on the brink of resuming diplomatic relations, have run into a snag over reciprocal privileges for their respective national airlines.

Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority has refused landing rights at Ben-Gurion Airport to a Bulgarian Balkanair flight, because the agency is dissatisfied with security arrangements at the airport in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital.

The Israeli authorities insist the Bulgarians bring their airport security up to their strict standards before landing rights in Israel arc granted to Balkanair. That includes rigid Israeli supervision of the terminals serving flights for Israel.

Sun d’Or, an El Al subsidiary, has been flying charter flights to Bulgaria in the absence of a formal aviation agreement between the two countries. It monitors its own security.

The Civil Aviation Authority rejected Bal-kanair’s request for the one charter flight for which permission was asked, because Bulgaria did not allow Sun d’Or to supervise security at the Sofia terminal serving the flight, an El Al spokesperson said.

The delay may force cancellation of the Balkanair flight, which is scheduled to carry 110 Bulgarian pilgrims to Israel this weekend and bring 140 Israeli tourists to Bulgaria for the Passover-Easter holidays next week.

There are not as yet scheduled flights between Sofia and Tel Aviv by either airline.

Aviation correspondents note that air service between Israel and most Eastern European countries started on an ad hoc basis before formal security arrangements were made. Agreements usually followed quickly when El Al canceled arrangements it considered inadequate.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu departed for Sofia on Monday. He will complete arrangements for Foreign Minister Moshe Arens’ official visit to Bulgaria later this month to sign an agreement restoring diplomatic relations.

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