FAA announces that U.S. flights to and from Tel Aviv can resume

Update – 12:20 a.m.:

The Federal Aviation Administration announced late Wednesday night that U.S. carriers were allowed to resume flights to and from Tel Aviv.

This came nearly 36 hours after the agency had first banned U.S. airlines from traveling to and from Ben Gurion International Airport, halting service after a rocket landed about a mile away from Israel’s largest airport. The rule change allowing flights to resume went into effect as of 11:45 p.m. on Wednesday.

“Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation,” the agency said in a statement.

The FAA said that it “will continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport.”

American Airlines, which merged with US Airways, had said on Wednesday that it planned to resume US Airways flights between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv once the FAA allowed it.

Earlier:

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday that U.S. carriers were banned from flying to and from Tel Aviv for at least another day.

Flights to and from Ben Gurion International Airport, the largest airport in Israel, were grounded on Tuesday for at least 24 hours after a rocket landed about a mile from the airport. The new notice from the FAA extended this until potentially Thursday afternoon.

“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.

Even before the FAA’s notice was sent out on Tuesday, U.S. airlines had begun to cancel flights to and from Israel. A Delta Airlines flight carrying 290 people from New York to Tel Aviv was diverted to Paris after the rocket was reported near Ben Gurion.

After the flight was diverted, Delta announced that it was suspended all service to and from Tel Aviv. United Airlines and US Airways quickly followed suit. United, which operates two flights daily from Newark to Tel Aviv, suspended operations “until further notice.”

“We will continue to suspend flying to and from Tel Aviv consistent with the FAA directive and will continue to coordinate with the FAA to ensure the safety of our customers and employees,” United said in a statement after the FAA extended the prohibition.

US Airways had canceled the daily flight it operates between Tel Aviv and Philadelphia. American Airlines, which merged with US Airways, said Wednesday it would have resumed US Airways service between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv on Thursday if the FAA had allowed it.

“This is a fluid situation and airlines are working closely with the FAA to ensure the safety of our passengers, crews and aircraft,” Jean Medina, spokeswoman for the trade group Airlines for America, said in an e-mail.

The FAA’s rule does not govern carriers based in other countries, but airlines from Canada to Europe also suspended service to and from Israel. And the European Aviation Safety Agency said in a bulletin Tuesday that it “strongly recommends” that airlines avoid flying to or from Israel for the time being.

Dozens of flights were canceled, a spokeswoman for the Israel Airport Authority said, stranding scores of travelers.

Officials in Israel had called for the FAA to lift the prohibition and allow flights to resume, sentiments that were echoed in the U.S. But the State Department, which had on Monday issued a warning advising U.S. citizens to delay “non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank,” defended the FAA’s decision as one meant to protect Americans.

“The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens,” Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the State Department, said. “The FAA continues to monitor and evaluate the situation, and will issue updated guidelines no later than 24 hours from the time the [notice] went into force.”

The report of a rocket near the airport and the cancellation of passenger flights came at an unusual moment for commercial air travel, occurring just five days after a Malaysian passenger jet with 298 people on-board was shot down over Ukraine. It brought to mind the dangers faced by commercial aircraft flying over or to areas riven by armed conflicts.

After the Malaysian jet was shot down, the FAA faced criticism for allowing commercial airliners to continue flying in that region at all, particularly since a military transport plane was shot down just days before Malaysia Air Flight 17 was downed. After the Malaysian flight was shot down, the FAA announced that U.S. carriers were prohibited from flying over eastern Ukraine, expanding an order that had covered other parts of the country.

But the hundreds of rockets that Hamas militants have fired into Israel in recent weeks do not resemble the missile which took down the Malaysian plane. The Hamas weapons are surface to surface rockets that lack sophisticated guidance systems and often fall harmlessly in remote, scarcely populated sections of Israel. By comparison, authorities believe the Malaysian jet was shot down by a Russian-made Buk SA-11 surface to air missile, one that can hit targets flying as high as 72,000 feet.

Ashley Halsey III contributed to this report.

This post has been updated. Last update: 4:30 p.m.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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