Pilot Journal
Monday, September 1, 2008

Flying In Israel

The historic region comes alive with Roman ruins, harsh deserts and lush agriculture

At Sde Dov Airport (above) in Tel Aviv, a 500-foot-tall smokestack is only 200 yards away from the thresholds of two runways. Given its compact size, Israel is a country of unusual juxtapositions.
While enjoying lunch, the sighing of the wind past the corners of the tent is broken by the sound of approaching jets. We zip outside, barely in time to see two IAF fighters scream past at about 100 feet AGL. I’m told that had we arrived earlier, we would’ve seen C-130s practicing assault landings on the airport. As a result of the military presence, I’m not the least bit surprised when Binnun uses his cell phone and calls ATC to obtain our VFR clearance before even starting the engine.

Back in the airplane, my suspicion that a takeoff from below sea level will result in some impressive performance is confirmed. The 182RG leaps off the ground and climbs to sea level (still a strange notion) in just over a minute. We tour much of the northern half of the country in the next hour and a half, flying along the Dead Sea (okay, it’s really a big lake), the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee (a medium-sized lake).

I’m flying over Israel, one of the world’s most historic regions. I’m overwhelmed as I try to process the country’s small size and absorb the rapidly changing landscape.

Even though we’re operating CVFR (the C stands for controlled), we must follow a published route. Just pointing the airplane where we want to go isn’t an option. We’re assigned an altitude, usually at least 2,000 feet AGL, in conjunction with the published route—designed for us to stay away from densely populated areas. Should I want to train with an instructor, I would file my CVFR flight plan at one of the designated practice areas. I would communicate with a controller at all times and would be the only airplane in the practice area. When the time comes for a checkride, I must file a flight plan describing where I intend to fly at least 24 hours beforehand, and get the route approved. This is especially important for the commercial flight test where one must demonstrate flight at about 500 feet and navigation by chart away from published airways.

israelAs we proceed, we’re handed off from one controller to another. Normal air traffic communication is conducted in Hebrew. If an English speaker comes onto the frequency, however, the controller and all of the pilots switch to English so everyone can keep track of each other.

In order to fly as pilot-in-command of an Israeli-registered aircraft, one must hold an Israeli pilot certificate. Fortunately, a visitor to Israel can rent an airplane and take dual from an instructor—an ideal way to get a feel for this stunning country. Prices are high compared to those in the United States—a Cessna 172 rents for about $215 per hour, with an instructor running a little over $70 per hour. Aviation fuel costs about $6 per gallon, roughly the same as automobile fuel. As for landing fees, at Masada they were just under $30. Binnun pays a flat annual fee of $800, which covers his tiedown and the landing fees at all of the public airports.

As in the States, Binnun must take a flight review every two years. To keep his instrument rating, he must take an annual checkride with a government examiner. The only airport with instrument approaches is Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International, so checkrides require some coordination.

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