Israel grounds flights, thousands stranded at Ben Gurion Airport


(JTA) – Thousands of passengers have been stranded at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport because of a jet fuel contamination problem.

According to Israeli media reports, a malfunction was discovered in the fuel filters at the airport more than a week ago. An unidentified source told reporters that a filter clog was discovered in an Arkia Airlines plane and was covered up “for financial reasons.” The source noted that such problems “could be disastrous.”

The Israel Airport Authority is investigating, according to reports. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz reportedly approved an emergency team to investigate how the contamination occurred.

Airport authorities on Thursday halted all refueling of aircraft, grounding dozens of planes. All flights into Israel have been diverted to Cyprus for refueling before they can take off again once they reach Israel, creating enormous delays. Twenty-nine planes have been grounded, including 23 indefinitely because they do not have enough fuel to reach Cyprus for refueling, Ben Gurion Airport manager Shmuel Kendel told Ynet.

Small airports in Eilat and Haifa also were affected by the fuel contamination, Ynet reported, as they use the same jet fuel as Ben Gurion.  

Earlier suspicions of terrorist links are being discounted, new reports say. Paz Aviation Assets said Thursday that an unidentified oily substance in the fueling terminals caused the filter contamination. The substance is being sent for testing.

A Ben Gurion Airport official, who requested anonymity, told reporters that similar contamination had been discovered five years ago and the system had not been fixed.

Delays are expected for many flights into Israel and all departing flights from the country.

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