Delta airline plane.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Just 12 hours after it renewed a 24-hour ban on US flights to and from Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, the Federal Aviation Authority on Thursday withdrew the ban, setting the stage for US and international carriers to resume flights. Europe’s Aviation Safety Agency, which had issued a “strong recommendation” against flights to Tel Aviv, retracted its warning later in the day.
Since the FAA ban on Tuesday – following the first successful Hamas rocket landing within the vicinity of the airport – hundreds of flights were canceled, and thousands of travelers stranded.
Following the American and European flight approvals, US Airways and United Airlines decided to resume their flights and informed the Israel Airports Authority that they would be landing planes on Friday at Ben-Gurion to take off on Saturday morning. Delta Airlines also decided to renew flights, as did Air Berlin, Al Italia, Meridian, Air Mediterranee, Nios, Air Iberia, Niki, EasyJet, Veiling, Mistrel, Air Canada and FedEx, the IAA said. As of press time flights to and from Turkey had not been renewed, according to the IAA.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz welcomed the FAA’s decision, and organized a meeting among relevant parties at Ben-Gurion Airport Thursday morning to assess the overall situation and discuss the site’s preparedness.
“Once again it was proven that Israeli skies are safe,” Katz said Thursday morning.
“He who tried to blockade Israel failed. I hope that European companies will also announce the return of activities soon.”
Israel lobbied heavily for the US to lift the restriction, which politicians called a victory for Hamas and terrorism.
The FAA said it took into account “significant new information and measures the government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation,” before making its decision, but stressed that its primary goal was to protect passengers on US airlines.
The EASA, meanwhile, said it had also coordinated with Israel and the FAA, and advised national aviation authorities to conduct their own risk assessment.
Though El Al and Arkia added capacity and new flights during the flight ban, Israeli customers were incensed by the high prices they were charging for tickets at a time of crisis, when so many people were stranded abroad. State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said on Thursday he would look into allegations of price gouging.
The Tourism Ministry convened a meeting with the Finance Ministry to discuss damage to Israel’s tourist industry, which it feared could take a long-term hit as the operation drags on.
Meanwhile, in light of the fact that most planes would no longer be making use of the alternative Ovda Airport, located some 60 km. north of Eilat, the IAA said it had ordered buses from Eilat to return passengers to Ben-Gurion Airport. IAA CEO Yaakov Ganot appointed an investigative team under the leadership of Shlomo Oren, vice president for aviation cooperation, to ensure the operational capabilities and services of the airport.
Two Air Europa planes waiting at Ovda elected to take off without passengers, the IAA announced around noon.
Stressing that the authority was doing its utmost to allow as many travelers as possible to reach their European destinations, the IAA said that a portion of the passengers were transferred to other flights at Ovda while others returned to Ben-Gurion Airport for assistance from the airline itself.
On Thursday afternoon, El Al announced the addition of two additional flights from Ben-Gurion Airport to Athens and Zurich. In addition, the airline said it was sending a special flight to Athens in the evening to return hundreds of Israelis to Israel who were stranded in Greece due to foreign airline cancellations.
In addition, the company said it was increasing the amount of seats on flights to Rome, Amsterdam and Zurich by replacing the originally planned planes with wide-body aircraft.