Fuel Contamination Halts Flights


Air traffic at Ben Gurion International Airport halted after contamination is discovered in jet fuel. Airline official says airport plunges into 'colossal chaos.' All flights diverted to Cyprus for refueling.


By: YOAV ZITUN  
Published: May 5th 2011
in News » Israel


Thousands stranded at airport

Dozens of flights scheduled to depart from the Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday were halted until further notice due to contamination discovered in the jet fuel. Airport management has ordered to suspend all aircraft fueling. As a result thousands of passengers are stranded at the airport.

 

Within a short while it was realized that Israel's minor airports were also affected by the contamination – including Eilat and Haifa. The director of the northern airports, Yossi Glasberg, told Ynet that the fuel source was identical to that serving Ben Gurion.

 

An airline official, who asked to remain anonymous, was not surprised by the developments. He said contamination had previously been discovered five years ago. "At the time they tried to cover it up, but they were unsuccessful," he said.

 

"The chaos that confronts us now is colossal. All flights landing in Israel will have to stop in Larnaca, so they have fuel to take off later. That means that the entire schedule of takeoffs and landings has to be altered, in Cyprus as well as Israel. This will disrupt the entire system and create massive delays… If this problem isn't solved immediately, chaos will rule."

 

Paz Aviation Assets, one of two major jet fuel providers in Israel, says a malfunction occurred in filters belonging jointly to Paz and Mercury Aviation, another major provider. The filters are located at Ben Gurion's terminals, it added.

 

Paz claims its fuel was checked and found to be pure, but that in Ben Gurion's filters an oily substance of unknown origin had accumulated, contaminating the product. Mercury says it is still investigating.

 

Some of the passengers whose flights were delayed Thursday were on their way to the Final Four Men's Basketball Championships taking place in Barcelona.

 

Airport sources said the matter was being taken care of by the Paz. Staff are now taking samples from the fuel tanks of all aircrafts that have been fueled in Israel.

 

The source of the contamination has yet to be confirmed. Delays are expected for many flights scheduled to land in Israel.

 

Arkia Airline announced that the halt in fuel supply has forced management to cancel all local and international flights until further notice. Arkia had 16 local and 10 international flights scheduled for Thursday.

 

Disaster averted

 

Meanwhile, Ynet learned that while a malfunction in an Arkia plane was the cause for Thursday's decision to ground all airplanes at Ben Gurion, problems with the fuel were detected over a week ago. The Israel Airport Authority is investigating.

 

According to an employee with one of the fuel providers, the decision followed "three small explosions heard inside an Arkia engine. It was then that an order was issued to stop all fueling activities."

 

The sources added that the problem was undisclosed initially, due to financial concerns. "All this time, the filters were clogging, until we almost had a disaster today," he said, adding that it is highly likely the directive will remain in place until the problem is solved.

 

The initial assumption, he continued, "Was that maybe the fueling line was contaminated. Now it is believed that the fuel may have been contaminated at the refinery."

 

The implications are potentially horrific, as clogged fuel filters may cause a plane to crash.

 

Paz Aviation Assets said Thursday that it was an unidentified oily substance in the fueling terminals that caused the contamination to the filters, which were sent to the Israel Institute of Energy and Environment for testing.

 

The institute could not identify the substance and eventually ruled it may be a hazardous material, prompting the decision to immediately halt all fueling activities.

 

Paz is currently trying to devise a solution for Ben Gurion's fueling terminals. The company insists its fuel supply in uncontaminated, and is currently exploring the possibility of having containers fuel at the Pi Glilot Depot and transferred to the airport. The move is pending police authorization.

 

Paz said that all filters found to be contaminated with the unidentified substance will be shipped to Germany overnight, for extensive testing.

 

The company stressed that at this point, there is no indication any deliberate sabotage was involved; adding tests performed on the jet fuel supplied over the past few days found it to be clean and up to code.

 

This article is reprinted from Ynet with permission.



Related articles: (Ben Gurion, Airport, Fuel contamination, Israel)
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