Europeans follow US lead in resuming Israel flights

Aviation authorities lift ban on landings at Ben Gurion airport but disrupted schedules continue to cause delays

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A departure flight board displays various canceled and delayed flights in Ben-Gurion International Airport, July 23, 2014. (AP/Dan Balilty)
A departure flight board displays various canceled and delayed flights in Ben-Gurion International Airport, July 23, 2014. (AP/Dan Balilty)

The European Aviation Safety Agency on Thursday withdrew its recommendation that airlines hold back on flying to Ben Gurion airport after the US Federal Aviation Authority lifted a similar ban, imposed earlier this week as a precaution against the threat of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

EASA, however, advised national aviation authorities to “base their decisions for flight operations to and from Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel on thorough risk assessments, in particular using risk analysis made by operators.”

The agency added that the aviation community should continue to “closely monitor risks to the safety of international civil flights.”

The FAA lifted its ban on US flights in and out of Israel late Wednesday, over a day after instituting a prohibition in response to a rocket that landed about a mile from the airport the day before.

After US airlines said they would resume services, Britain’s easyJet, Italy’s Alitalia and Germany’s Air Berlin followed suit. Lufthansa and affiliated companies did not say when they would resume services to Israel.

Although flights are to resume, new schedules have yet to be drawn up, leaving passengers to face continued delays. Thousands of Israelis were still stranded abroad as of Thursday afternoon.

After the FAA announced its ban, Israeli authorities took steps to ramp up the Ovda airfield, located in the southern Negev, as an alternative to Ben Gurion for international flights. Ovda is mostly used as a military airfield although its runways are equipped to handle international jet airliners. During the winter months it accepts some flights for vacationers heading to the nearby resort city of Eilat.

However, a lack of prepared facilities meant hundreds of passengers who traveled to the airfield on Thursday in the hope of catching outbound flights were delayed for hours in the departure halls. The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that two charter flights took off from Ovda without any passengers on board in order to meet their schedules in other airports.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz hailed the FAA reevaluation and said that lifting the ban “proves once again that Israel’s airspace is safe.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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