Israel has returned to the highest ranking in aviation safety, according to the standards of the United States Federal Aviation Authority, Transportation Minister Israel Katz announced on Thursday.The FAA informed Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Director Giora Romm of the organization’s decision to cancel Israel’s downgrade to Category 2 for flight safety, and return it to Category 1.Israeli airlines flying to the US will therefore no longer be subject to the limitations they have faced for the past three-and-a-half year. They will now be able to fly to any destination in the US and continue from there to locations all over the world.In addition to this benefit, both Israeli and American airlines will also now be able to sign more code-share ticketing agreements, the ministry said.The decision to return Israel to Category 1 followed an examination of its CAA by senior staff members of the FAA, which determined that the CAA met all international safety requirements. The FAA conducts the International Aviation Safety Assessment Program (IASA), which evaluates the civil aviation authority of each country that has carriers with aircraft entering the US.Those countries whose CAA meet Category 1 standards “may initiate or continue service to the United States in a normal manner and take part in reciprocal codeshare arrangements with US carriers.”Those in Category 2 are unable to initiate any new service and restricted to their current levels of service to the US, while their reformative actions are underway. While a country’s CAA is in Category 2, the FAA does not honor reciprocal codeshare agreements between airlines from that state and from the US, and carriers from the country flying into the US are subject to additional inspection upon arrival.Reasons that a country may fall into Category 2 and not comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards are that the country lacks the regulations necessary to support oversight of carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, and that the country’s CAA lacks technical expertise, or has not adequately trained its personnel. Other reasons include inadequate inspector guidance in the CAA to ensure enforcement of minimum international standards, and insufficient records of certification, or inadequate surveillance of air carrier operations – according to the FAA.Possessing one or more of these elements will cause a country to receive Category 2 rating, the FAA information said. Israel’s CAA was first bumped to Category 2 on December 19, 2008, due to an assessment made in July of that year that was “not related to security issues,” according to an FAA press release from the time.Upon receiving the Category 2 rating, Israel began working with the FAA to take aggressive action against the areas of concern and ensure that its safety oversight system was fully compliant with ICAO standards, the release said. The FAA stressed at the time that Israel had maintained a Category 1 rating since November 1995, and that its Category 2 move did not necessarily mean that travel on Israeli air carriers had become unsafe.Rather, a Category 2 rating can be bestowed on a country due to lack of proper regulations, or standards in technical, training, inspection or recordkeeping areas, the FAA said.The CAA had failed in all basic elements required by the FAA to qualify for safe civil aviation at the time, the ministry said. After conducting a retest the following year, the FAA again found similar deficiencies.Other Category 2 countries listed in January 2012 included Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Cote D’Ivoire, Curacao, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Kiribati, Montenegro, Nauru, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Philippines, Serbia, Swaziland, the Ukraine, Uruguay and Zimbabwe. All other Middle Eastern countries permitted to fly into the US – Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates – were in Category 1.Upon assuming office, Katz has made it one of his priorities to return Israel to the highest safety aviation ranking, according to the Transportation Ministry.Following the downgrade, Israeli CAA staff worked with a special American team to correct the deficiencies – such as rewriting procedures, updating hundreds of regulations, rewriting the Flight Law and newly documenting licenses, the ministry explained.Teams from the FAA visited Israel every two months to guide CAA supervisors and evaluate the implementation process.In April 2011, a new Flight Law came into force, replacing the antiquated Flight Law of 1927, one of the main conditions that would lead to Israel’s return to Category 1, the ministry said.While much has been accomplished, the CAA is to continue to perform several tasks as part of its Category 1 acceptance process, said Romm, the CAA director. These include continuing to implement extensive regulations, renewing the licenses for various airlines and handling sportive and unmanned aviation, Romm added.“Israel’s return to the high safety ranking will enable for the first time Israeli airlines to realize the new ‘Open Skies’ agreement that was signed two years ago between Israel and the US,” the ministry said.