Gaza conflict: Air Canada resumes Tel Aviv flights as FAA ban lifted
FAA allows flights to resume, citing measures Israeli government is taking to mitigate risks
Air Canada is resuming flights to Tel Aviv starting tonight, the airline has announced.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had lifted its ban on all flights to Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport late Wednesday night, despite continued fighting in Gaza. The cancellation went into effect at 11:45 p.m. ET.
Air Canada's next flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv is scheduled to depart at 6:10 p.m. ET Thursday. To accommodate previously delayed passengers, the airline will use a larger aircraft, a Boeing 777-300 offering 138 seats more than the usual 211-seat Boeing 767, a spokeswoman said.
- LIVE BLOG | On mobile? Follow the story here
- Airlines cancel flights to Israel, citing rocket fire
- Safe skies? How pilots avoid flying near conflict hot spots
- PHOTOS | Israel's Gaza offensive
"This decision is based on our own assessment and that of regulators of the situation and in consultation with others in the airline community," Air Canada said in a statement Thursday morning.
"The safety of our passengers and crew is our first priority and we will continue to monitor developments very closely."
Regarding its earlier lifting of the ban, the FAA said: "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 ban was initially instituted on Tuesday, after a rocket hit about two kilometres from the boundaries of the airport. The FAA extended that ban for a second day earlier on Wednesday.
On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Air Canada, the only Canadian carrier that flies to Israel, cancelled its daily flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv.
About 30 international carriers had suspended flights to the airport, but US Airways said it would resume flights to Israel Thursday. Delta, another American airline, said "we hope to announce a renewal of flights soon but we don't have anything yet."
Other major airlines, particularly European carriers, have yet to announce a resumption of flights.
Israeli officials slammed the cancellations as an overreaction that rewards Hamas, and Israel's own El Al airline continued flying in and out of Ben Gurion throughout the duration of the FAA's ban.
United Airlines, which has two daily flights from Newark, N.J., to Tel Aviv, said Thursday: "We intend to resume service. We're now reviewing when we can do so."
American Airlines — parent company of US Airways, which has one daily flight from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv — said: "We are in the process of assessing the situation and will make a decision as soon as possible on when to resume service. Other factors will be considered before we resume — the most important being the safety of our crew and our passengers."
The FAA has no authority over foreign airlines operating in Israel, although the European Aviation Safety Agency recommended Tuesday that airlines refrain from operating flights to and from Tel Aviv. EASA lifted that advisory Thursday, recommending that national authorities base decisions on flying to Ben Gurion "on thorough risk assessments, in particular using risk analysis made by operators."
The FAA's flight ban was criticized by the Israeli government and by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who questioned whether President Barack Obama used a federal agency to impose an economic boycott on Israel.
Delta Air Lines, which diverted a jumbo jet away from Tel Aviv before Tuesday's ban by the FAA, will not necessarily resume flights to Israel even if U.S. authorities declare the area safe, the airline's CEO said before the FAA lifted the ban.
CEO Richard Anderson said Delta would of course obey FAA orders but would continue to make its own decisions about safety.
"We appreciate the advice and consent and the intelligence we get, but we have a duty and an obligation above and beyond that to independently make the right decisions for our employees and passengers," Anderson said on a conference call with reporters.
"Even if they lift" the prohibition on flying in and out of Ben Gurion Airport, "we still may not go in depending on what the facts and circumstances are."
Delta sets own course
Anderson declined to discuss specifically how the airline would make the decision to resume the flights and spoke only in general terms. He said the airline decides whether flights are safe to operate "on an independent basis, so we will evaluate the information we have and we will make the judgment that our passengers and employees rely on us to make for them every day."
The chief executive of Middle East carrier Emirates said after the shoot-down in Ukraine of a Malaysia Airlines jet last week that global airlines need better risk assessment from international aviation authorities.
Delta, however, seemed more inclined to go it alone.
"We have a broad and deep security network around the world," Anderson said. "We have security directors that work for Delta in all the regions of the world, and we have a very sophisticated capability and methodology to manage these kinds of risks, whether it's this or a volcano or a hurricane."
With files from Reuters and The Associated Press