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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Almost as effective as More effective than a Strella

For months - if not years now - we have been hearing that 'pirate radio' stations are interfering with the frequencies used by commercial aircraft taking off and landing at Ben Gurion Airport to talk to the control tower and to each other. Yesterday, airport personnel planned a strike to shut the airport down today between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM to protest the danger to airline passengers (possibly the only strike in this country's history with which I could agree). But at the last minute, the strike was canceled. This is serious - and dangerous - stuff as anyone could tell from listening to the tapes played regularly on commercial radio stations:
Earlier Wednesday, transmissions from a pirate radio station in the area interfered with control tower communication systems at Ben-Gurion. As a result, music was heard on pilots' radios, instead of the usual silence when no messages are being relayed between the planes and the tower.

"What happened today could bring disaster and could result in something terrible," said Gali Gabbai, Israel Airport Authority spokeswoman.

According to Arie Gilad, director of operations for the authority, the interference began around 9 on Wednesday morning and lasted for approximately two hours. During this time, he said, a Continental Airlines pilot lost contact with air traffic controllers minutes before the plane was due to land, forcing the pilot to land without final authorization from the tower.

After the interference ended, Gabbai told The Jerusalem Post, Idan informed Gabi Ofir, the Airports Authority's director-general, that the union would strike if the broadcasts continued. However Ofir convinced Idan to give the police time to try to resolve the situation.
Who are the pirates? Israel Radio this morning announced that it was going to be interviewing the communications minister, who comes from the (ultra-Orthodox Sephardi) Shas party, "the source of most of the pirate radio stations." Many Israelis might even think that's a logical conclusion since the sum total of ultra-Orthodox representation on commercial radio here is one show on Saturday night from midnight to 5:00 AM - not exactly prime time hours. The JPost implies the same thing:
Police in the Dan region said on Wednesday that they received a complaint a day earlier from a Communications Ministry official regarding a pirate radio station operating on Rehov Yehoshua in Bnei Brak. [Bnei Brak is a town near the airport that is almost entirely ultra-Orthodox. CiJ]

The complainant said the station was disrupting communications and endangering air traffic.

Police and ministry representatives arrived at the address where the station was allegedly operating and took the 53-year-old owner of the apartment in for questioning. He was later released on bail.
Personally, I find it extremely difficult to believe that ultra-Orthodox Jews would purposely operate on frequencies that endanger commercial air traffic. And in fact, there is apparently a different group that's operating pirate radio stations and they may very well be doing it purposely to endanger commercial air travelers. This comes from Arutz Sheva, which knows a thing or two about pirate radio stations (and which never interfered with commercial air traffic during its radio broadcast days). You won't find the station identified anyplace else:
More than a dozen flights were cancelled Wednesday due to radio interference from a Ramallah-based pirate radio station.

Ben Gurion Airport Air Traffic Communications Director Uri Orlev told Army Radio that Wednesday’s communication crisis was caused by a combination of weather and hardware.

“The high temperatures play a critical part in the disruptions,” he said. “When they heat up the low-quality transmitters used by pirate radio stations, they stray into higher frequencies and interfere with communications. The controller wants to give a message to the pilot – and the message is interrupted. This is why we don’t want to take any chances and why we stopped flights Wednesday.”

Orlev said that there are sometimes problems with regular radio stations as well – but that “the main problem is the pirate radio stations.”

Israel’s state-run radio and TV broadcasts focused on the 200 unauthorized radio stations operated by Israelis, mostly run by the Shas Party and other hareidi-religious communities. The specific frequency that is interfering with the air traffic transmissions, however, is Ramallah’s 107.7 FM Saut al-Shaab radio.


Pirate radio broadcasters complain that the government refuses to grant broadcast licenses to stations offering an alternative voice to state-run radio. When Arutz-7 was on the air, it used transmitters that would not stray into air traffic frequencies, no matter what the weather – yet air traffic interference was always a reason cited during government attempts to shut it down.

In the context of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel gave several radio frequencies to the PA. PA Arabs have not adhered to those frequencies and are operating an unknown number of makeshift pirate radio stations, sponsored by competing mosques and terror groups. The Hamas-Fatah PA government has refused to take action against the Ramallah radio station and communications disruptions continued Thursday morning.
This is far more effective than a handheld Strella missile. No aim or timing required.


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