Take Israeli politicians that don’t have a clue about the issues they vote for or against, add pressure from Israeli real estate owners and you get an imminent threat to the general aviation sector.
Two decisions were made – to close Sde Dov, Tel Aviv’s city airport – and Herzelia airport, some 10 miles to the northeast.
Sde Dov serves the Israeli air force (IAF) for small aircraft and helicopters, but also Arkia and Israir flights to Eilat, the Red sea resort.
After the airport closes these flights will be carried out from Ben Gurion international airport.
Sde Dov is located in one of Israel’s most lucrative real estate locations. The pressure to use it for building apartment blocks has been on for years.
In the place of runways and hangars, some 12,000 apartments will be built, as well as hotels along the Mediterranean beachfront, shopping malls and a seafront park.
When Herzelia closes some of the grounds will also be used for new buildings. Herzelia is also the centre of maintenance for the general aviation sector.
The government’s decision to shut down the city airport was made with an alternative – an unrealistic one. This alternative is based on moving general aviation from Herzelia and Sde Dov to Ein Shemer airport, further northeast.
But this alternative is not worth the paper it is typed on. The reason? One of the IAF’s Arrow ballistic missile interceptor batteries is based at the location, together with other defence-related operations.
But politicians do not let the facts confuse them, and the decision was made. By 2017, or a year later, the two airports are to be closed. This, if the last battle of the Israeli Association of General Aviation fails.
The problem is not just one for the owners of some 200 small aircraft operated by private pilots – it’s far more complicated.
Unlike in the past, the balance of pilots in the three Israeli airlines – EL AL, Arkia and Israir – is shifting from ex-IAF pilots to those that did not serve in the forces and went instead through a civil training path.
This shift was caused by two key reasons: the duration of the IAF flying course is now three years instead of two, and graduates have to sign for 12 years of service instead of seven.
These changes resulted in a smaller number of pilots that go from an F-16 or C-130 cockpit to an 777 or ATR-72.
Subsequently, this made the general aviation sector the main pool for new pilots, and the decisions on the closure of the two airports totally ignore this fact.