FAA Extend US Airlines Flights To and From Israel
By Candice Naranjo
Wed Jul 23rd, 2014 10:58am America/Los_Angeles
(CNN) — The Federal Aviation Administration extended its ban Wednesday on U.S. airlines’ flights to and from Tel Aviv, Israel, for another 24 hours.
The ban now runs through 12:15 p.m. ET Thursday.
“The agency is working closely with the government of Israel to review the significant new information they have provided and determine whether potential risks to U.S. civil aviation are mitigated so the agency can resolve concerns as quickly as possible,” the FAA said in a statement.
The FAA did not detail what the “significant new information” is. But the Israeli government told CNN that Ben Gurion International Airport is safe from any rocket attack by militants in Gaza.
The ban was enacted Tuesday after a rocket struck about a mile from the airport. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN the military had tracked the rocket, as it does in general with those fired by militants from Gaza. Israel chose not to shoot the rocket down, knowing the airport would not be hit. “Any incoming rocket that would hit the airport … would immediately be taken out by our system,” Regev said.
Ben Gurion was still expecting 206 flights Wednesday despite cancellations from U.S. and some European airlines, Israel’s Transport Ministry said.
U.S. Airways told CNN it will resume flights to the Israeli airport Thursday if the FAA approves.
Delta Air Lines said Tuesday it was suspending flights until further notice.
German airline Lufthansa said that “based on an analysis of presently available information,” it will continue to suspend flights Thursday.
The European Aviation Safety Agency recommended avoiding Ben Gurion on Tuesday.
But British Airways continued flying into Israel even after other airlines canceled.
Some Americans rejected the FAA decision as an overreaction. “The flight restrictions are a mistake that hand Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said late Tuesday, announcing he was flying to Israel on El Al, Israel’s national airline.
But the FAA said its decision was necessary due to the “potentially hazardous situation.”
And after the shootdown last week of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, some jittery travelers understand the FAA decision.
“You have a rocket and you bring down 300 people at one shot,” one said. But it didn’t stop her from boarding her flight.
The airport is a key economic artery for Israel.
While more than 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza, 6,000 flights have landed and departed at Ben Gurion, the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel said. “It is not a miracle and not a trick,” the authority’s director, Giora Romm, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “We know how to defend Ben Gurion, period.”
It’s unusual for the FAA to prohibit U.S. carriers from flying to a particular airport, said Mary Schiavo, a former U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general.
“In the past when the FAA has done it, there have been diplomatic consequences,” she said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed Wednesday at Ben Gurion on a mission to try to stop all hostilities. The airline suspensions didn’t affect his flight because he traveled on a military plane.
The flight suspensions have stranded some travelers in Tel Aviv. And others, who flew out on Israeli carriers, had to run for cover before takeoff when sirens went off at the airport.
“You had to run for about a minute to get to shelter and just wait there for about 10 minutes,” a passenger arriving in New York from Tel Aviv told CNN affiliate NY1. “It was nerve-racking, actually.”
Then the all-clear sounded.
Rabbi Shalom Lewis, whose synagogue is in an Atlanta suburb, was stuck at Ben Gurion with a group of American travelers all looking for a way to get home to the United States. But none was running scared over missiles.
“Every one of them was just aggravated by the inability to get home easily, but nobody was afraid,” Lewis told NY1.
On Wednesday, the Transport Ministry ordered the opening of the small Uvda airport in the far southeast of Israel.
Canceling flights to Israel is a serious blow to the country’s economy, said Romm of the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel.
Tourism is a major source of income. Last year, Israel received a record 3.5 million visitors, according to its Central Bureau of Statistics.
Before the recent violence, the bureau reported a record 1.4 million visitors for the first half of 2014. The violence will likely put a damper on tourism.
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