Airlines race to prevent European flight ban

European Aviation Safety Agency sends Israel Civil Aviation Authority warning that if flight safety does not improve, agency will blacklist El Al, Arkia and Israir.

El Al 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
El Al 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Could Israeli airlines soon be barred from flying to Europe and the United States? Channel 2 reported Thursday night that the European Aviation Safety Agency has sent the Israel Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) a warning via e-mail that if its flight safety did not improve, the European agency would blacklist El Al, Arkia and Israir. This would prohibit them from landing at European airports, and perhaps even from flying over the continent. Flights to the US could also be cut as a result of such a decision. The European agency is set to take a decision on the issue in a month's time, according to the TV report. Industry sources said the European warning was triggered by the US Federal Aviation Administration's downgrading of Israel's air-safety system to a third-world "category two" level last December. The FAA cited "severe security shortcomings in Israel's Civil Aviation Authority" and a range of security defects at Ben Gurion International Airport. Giora Rom, the head of the ICAA, played down the European e-mail. "We are in close contact with the Europeans," Rom said. "I don't know what the fuss is about. The Europeans' e-mail is strange. We are doing everything we can to improve security." An airline source, speaking on behalf of El Al, Arkia and Israir, said, "The airlines are safe, and if the ICAA takes action, everything will be alright." Aviation experts had warned that the FAA's lowering of Israel's security ranking would adversely affect the image of Israel-based airlines in the US and Europe, as well as their profitability. The Transportation Ministry said in a statement: "The Transportation Ministry has taken the report to heart, and [the] ICAA will be using the report to set guidelines for improvement. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz has been working to repair the cumulative damage of dozens of years with investments in flight security, and people in central position have been replaced. We plan to study the report intensively and restore everything found lacking so that Israel can return to the category one." •