FAA extends flight ban to Israel for 24 hours

The Federal Aviation Administration extended its prohibition Wednesday against U.S. flights to Israel for a second 24 hours, a day after a missile fell within a mile of the Tel Aviv airport.

"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," FAA said in a statement.

Delta Air Lines and US Airways had already canceled flights for Thursday. European airlines also canceled more flights Wednesday, after the European Aviation Safety Agency said Tuesday it "strongly recommends" airlines refrain from flying there.

"We have decided to suspend our flights to and from Tel Aviv until further notice," Air France said in a statement. "Your safety and the safety of our crew remain our top priority."

The airline offered travelers holding tickets from July 22 to Aug. 15 either a refund or a chance to change travel to after Aug. 31.

Lufthansa and Air Berlin also canceled flights for Thursday.

Lufthansa said its decision applies to its subsidiaries Germanwings, Austrian Airlines, Swiss and Brussels Airlines, spanning 20 flights from Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich, Zurich, Vienna and Brussels.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said U.S. officials continue to discuss the security situation with Israel.

"We're continuing to monitor the situation in Israel and other parts of the world. Safety is the very first priority for DOT, for FAA," Foxx said. "Our work within our own government and the conversations that occur between governments continue. As the situation continues to evolve, we will adjust our guidance accordingly. But for the time being, it is what it is."

US Airways cancelled flight 796 from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv on Wednesday and Thursday "in response to security concerns," after already canceling the flight Tuesday, the airline announced.

"We remain in contact with the FAA and continue to monitor the situation," said Casey Norton, an airline spokesman. "For customers with future travel plans to Tel Aviv, our travel advisory and flexible ticketing remain in place through Aug. 31."

Delta suspended flights indefinitely after Flight 468 from New York's JFK airport, a Boeing 747 with 273 passengers and 17 crew members, diverted to Paris on Tuesday rather than continue to Tel Aviv. That decision was made by independently of the FAA.

Israel's Transportation Ministry called on the companies to reverse their decision, insisting the Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and saying there is no reason to "hand terror a prize," by halting the flights.

The ministry said it is providing accommodation vouchers for tourists whose airlines aren't providing housing. The ministry opened a 24-hour hotline for thousands of tourists now in the country.

Israeli airlines El Al, Arkia and Israir continue to operate as normal to provide an answer for passengers on other carriers. Also, 22 foreign airlines continue to fly into Israel as scheduled, including British Airways, Aeroflot and Ukrainian Airlines which operate several flights a day.

Ben-Gurion Airport expects 209 flights today. "As things stand at the moment, it would appear that several foreign airlines intend to recommence operations to Israel," the ministry said in a statement.

Ben Vogel, editor of IHS Jane's Airport Review, said Hamas has failed to carry out its threat July 9 to strike the airport, but the aviation community "appears to be in no mood to take risks near conflict zones."

The FAA ban comes on the heels of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by a surface-to-air missile as it was flying over eastern Ukraine.

"Israeli aviation officials and diplomats will be highly concerned by the move from several major international airlines to suspend flights to Israel and Hamas will no doubt claim a major propaganda victory," Vogel said.

Contributing: The Associated Press


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