Israeli desert to become major aircraft boneyard

Jerusalem, Israel Arieh O’Sullivan (The Med – While Israel may possess one of the world’s largest air forces, it will also soon become home to a massive aircraft salvage yards in its southern desert.

Despite vehement objections by environmental groups, last week the Interior Ministry’s National Planning and Building Council approved a plan to set up a 650-acre aircraft recycling facility on the outskirts of the Ovda airbase. The location is expected to store some 500 aircraft from around the world and dismantle dozens every year.

Local officials have been pushing for the endeavor, which they say will create nearly 1,000 jobs, particularly for engineers and other professionals and provide an economic stimulus for the sparsely populated southern region.

“Just like other places in the world which have aircraft parking lots, like in Arizona and Nevada, we estimate that for every jet that parks there brings one job,” Udi Gat, the head of the Eilot Regional Council where the air base is located, told The Media Line.

He added that the project has been eight years in planning and hoped that now that final approval has been given it would start work and aircraft would start flying in by the end of the year.

“This project is coming here because we have high quality technicians and engineers, many who came out of military service, the dry air which preserves the aircraft and the inexpensive land,” Gat said.

The Ovda airbase is located in a wide desert valley in southern Israel, about 60 kilometers north of the resort city of Eilat. The area is peppered with ancient sites, including a 9,000-year-old temple, and the valley itself is surrounded by high, rugged mountains.

In the early 1980s the United States built the Ovda airbase as a substitute for the air bases Israel had to relinquish in the Sinai Peninsula as part of the U.S.-brokered peace agreement with Egypt. The airbase also functions as a supplement to the Eilat airport, which cannot accommodate large-bodied aircraft. Eilat is about a 40-minute drive from the Ovda airbase.

An Israeli company, Airpark Ltd., decided that the location would be excellent for an aircraft storage and dismantling facility. The desert is sparsely populated, space is not a problem and the existing airbase would allow aircraft to easily be delivered.

As soon as plans for the facility became public, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) objected. Using data from AFRA, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association, SPNI claimed that an average of 300 aircraft are dismantled for scrap and parts every year and that the projected 25 planes to be scrapped at Ovda represented nearly 10 percent of the annual total in the world. Aircraft recycling is expected to pick through the old aircraft, dismantling them, salvaging avionics, engine parts, aluminum and other metals, and even seatbelts and leather.

“This plan isn’t compatible with Israel’s policy to reduce emissions and is a polluting industry,” Noa Yayon, an attorney for the SPNI, wrote in the objection. She added that the increased number of flights, importing of waste necessity of creating additional garbage facilities in an undeveloped and pristine ecological area were to the area and the project should be blocked.

“In addition to this, the Ovda Valley is a rich biosphere which is likely to be damaged by this plan by the loss of open land as well as the potential ecological blow caused by paving tarmacs and scrapping the aircraft and the use of fuels and oils, etc” she wrote.

The government planning committee rejected the opposition from the environmentalists, saying the scrapping operations would only be a minor activity and would be restricted to a designated area to reduce environmental damage.

Furthermore, the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying that it would set up a team to survey, inspect and monitor the scrapping programs.

But scrapping is not the main reason groups like the SNPI object to the project. They petitioned against the plan since it would damage the ecological uniqueness of the area.

“Unfortunately, instead of preserving natural treasures and the special landscape of the Arava and supporting the local population it was decided bring hundreds of tons of trash every year to Israel and to turn the south of Israel into the garbage can of the world,” SPNI spokesman Dov Greenblat told The Media Line.

But Gat countered that the area set aside for the tarmacs were already “violated” from previous work on the base.

“The Ovda valley is a beautiful pearl, but the corner of it has long been taken over by the air force and the area we are talking about is not virgin. It’s inside the perimeter fence and is not harming nature. Besides it worth it,” said Gat.

Developers believe that the Ovda project will draw European and Asian airlines to park their aging aircraft there since it was closer and less expensive than boneyards in the United States.

The facility will be constructed by Airpark Ltd., a subsidiary of IES Holdings that is run by CEO Doron Segev. Segev declined to comment directly, but issued the following statement.

Airpark is slated to be located on parts of the military base that will be vacated and is adjacent to the base in accordance with the guiding development principles and would provide hundreds of jobs and encourage immigration to the southern region.

The location of the project has the “utmost compatibility with the environment,” Segev’s statement said, adding that there had been a comprehensive environmental survey addressing all potential issues.

Regarding aircraft disassembly, Segev said there was an unequivocal commitment to recycling and reuse and at least 90 percent of the parts dismantled. It said that it would produce approximately 15 trucks of waste a year, which does not exceed the amount of waste that the city of Eilat produces in one day.

In April, an airport in the United Arab Emirates announced it would be setting up an international center to recycle old aircraft, making the Ovda center a second site in the Middle East.


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