In an unusual move, airport authorities in Israel decided to close a runway at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, due to a ‘rogue’ construction crane!
Erecting a construction crane near an airport can be a bit of a hassle. Construction contractors need to apply for a license, that authorities will review accordingly. The proposed crane must not pierce the approach obstacle clearance criteria for any of the airport’s runways. If authorities agree that this isn’t an issue, they will issue the relevant permit or license, for the construction crane. If it’s close to a runway, they will also issue a NOTAM (Notice To AirMen) about it, which looks like this:
CRANE ERECTED WI LLBG AD, 1.5KM W THR RWY 12/30,
500M N OF C/L RWY 12/30.
AN AREA WI 0.3NM RADIUS CENTERED ON PSN
N320119.92E0345134.92 CLSD FM GND UP TO
30M 98.5FT AGL, 60M 197FT QNH.
CTN ADZ. 16 FEB 04:00 2021 UNTIL 03 MAR 18:00 2021. CREATED: 15 FEB 12:37 2021
This tells pilots that there is a crane about 1.5 kilometres west of the threshold of runway 12/30, 500 metres north of the centre line of runway 12/30. The crane stands 30 metres (98.5 feet) above the ground, so 60 metres/197 feet above sea level. The coordinates of the construction crane in question are: N32° 01’ 19.92” E34° 51’ 34.92”
The NOTAM gives more information, including how long the construction crane will be at this position. This is an actual NOTAM that the Israel Airports Authority issued, two days ago. Note that it doesn’t place any limits to pilots; it simply alerts them to the presence of the crane. Distances in the NOTAM are approximate.
Different Construction Site, Different Crane!
However, a day later the situation changed. The next NOTAM for Ben Gurion airport (LLBG), was this:
RWY 12 CLSD FOR LDG ONLY, DUE CRANE ON FINAL 12
PSN N320159E0345000,HGT 71.73M 235.6FT AGL, 94.73M 311FT QNH.
16 FEB 18:46 2021 UNTIL 28 FEB 21:59 2021. CREATED: 16 FEB 18:46 2021
This NOTAM tells crews that runway 12 is closed for landings, because of a crane on final. A lot has changed in a day, including the height of the crane which more than doubled! It now stands 71.73 metres (235.6 feet) above the ground, or 94.73m/311 feet above sea level. Also, the position of the construction crane has changed, and is: N32° 01’ 59” E34° 50’ 00”
So, the first construction crane coordinates are 450-500 metres away from the runway centre-line. But the ACTUAL crane that went up, in the other coordinates, is only 140 metres from the centre-line. It’s further away (about 3,8km), but it’s much taller. Remember, approaches are at only 3 degrees of descent. The two sites are both in Or Yehuda city. The position of the construction crane that caused the closure appears to be close to the Ramat Pinkas settlement.
Obviously at this time we don’t know the circumstances that led to this event. It could be a confusion between two different construction sites with cranes, or a different misunderstanding. However, reports in Israel suggest that the contractor provided incorrect information. Both the position and the height of the crane were wrong. The matter constitutes a serious safety hazard.
Strange Events In Strange Times
However, closing the runway is an unusual step. The NOTAM suggests that the construction crane will remain in place until the 28th of February. The explanation may simply have to do with the era we’re going through. Ben Gurion airport is essentially in hibernation. Only 600 passengers per day are allowed to arrive. And all of them must have special permission to enter, essentially as repatriation/rescue flights.
That number could increase to 2,000, as a result of pressure from US airlines. Until now, only El-Al could perform these repatriation flights. Arriving passengers need to spend quarantine in special hotels. And authorities have only 600 hotel rooms for them, thus making more airline arrivals problematic. But authorities now say that more rooms are available, so US carriers could soon get approval for rescue flights.
Even so, 2000 arrivals in 24 hours are very low, for a typical international airport. So, Ben Gurion airport can handle the construction crane closure just fine. The airport has three runways. 18/30 isn’t actually the longest, but it is the one that sees the most use. And of course take-offs from runway 18 are still possible.
In all, this is certainly an unusual event. And perhaps it’s a good thing that it happened in these unusual times, rather than at any other point. However it is still a hazardous affair, that could have serious repercussions for those involved.
On a lighter note, Ben Gurion Airport featured in our news recently because of idle planes and curious cats…
Our thanks to Larry Brandt for the tip!
EDITED: for pictures of the actual cranes (yes, plural) at the site and how they look from the airport, check here. Thanks to Moshe Cohen for the link!