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Flights Banned Over Trouble Spots      07/23 06:29

   When U.S. and European airlines quickly canceled flights to Israel on 
Tuesday, they showed both a skittishness and a new sense of urgency in dealing 
with global trouble spots following last week's downing of a passenger plane 
over Ukraine.

   When U.S. and European airlines quickly canceled flights to Israel on 
Tuesday, they showed both a skittishness and a new sense of urgency in dealing 
with global trouble spots following last week's downing of a passenger plane 
over Ukraine.

   Delta Air Lines turned around one of its jets midflight and indefinitely 
canceled all future flights between the U.S. and Israel after a rocket fired 
from the Gaza Strip landed near Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport. Other U.S. 
airlines quickly took similar action, and counterparts in Europe and Canada 
followed within hours, despite protests from the Israeli government. Israeli 
airline El Al maintained its regular flight schedule.

   The airlines were out ahead of aviation regulators in stopping service. The 
Federal Aviation Administration imposed a 24-hour ban on flights to Israel 
after the U.S. airlines acted. Germany's Lufthansa, Italian airline Alitalia 
and Air France all acted before the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an 
advisory.

   How long the cessation of flights will last is unclear. U.S. airlines now 
must wait for the FAA, which said it will provide updated guidance by midday 
Wednesday.

   Scandinavian Airlines canceled two flights from Copenhagen to Tel Aviv on 
Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, and said it will rethink the situation 
Wednesday for two more flights this week. Budget airline Norwegian said it had 
scrapped a flight from Stockholm to Tel Aviv on Wednesday and was monitoring 
the events closely, the airline's spokeswoman Charlotte Holmbergh Jacobsson 
said.

   Also Wednesday, Royal Jordanian suspended its flights to Ben Gurion until 
further notice, according to the airline's spokesman, Basil al-Kilani.

   Korean Air Lines Co. said on Friday that it was suspending its flights 
between Incheon International Airport near Seoul and Tel Aviv until at least 
Thursday, citing tensions between Israel and Palestine.

   Aviation and legal experts said that airlines are now taking risk assessment 
into their own hands, both for the safety of passengers and to avoid claims of 
negligence, following last week's Malaysia Airlines disaster.

   "Most airlines have security departments that try to evaluate those sorts of 
risk," said William Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry-Riddle 
Aeronautical University. "Some do it better than others, but I would expect 
that everyone is on a very heightened sense of alert right now."

   Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, said airlines might be 
more proactive about avoiding hot spots, although he noted that there are very 
few areas where non-government militaries have weapons sophisticated enough to 
shoot down a plane.

   Western governments have accused pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine of 
shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with a surface-to-air missile while 
it was flying at 33,000 feet. Some experts have second-guessed the airline's 
decision to fly over the area. But Malaysian officials have countered that the 
plane's path from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was approved by international 
regulators.

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

   Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly urged the FAA to "reverse 
course" and permit U.S. airlines to fly to Israel.

   Bloomberg released a statement saying he is flying on El Al to Tel Aviv on 
Tuesday night to "show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate 
that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel."

   "The U.S. flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an underserved 
victory and should be lifted immediately," Bloomberg said.

   Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel, and 
several heading toward the area of the airport have been intercepted by 
Israel's Iron Dome defense system, but police spokeswoman Luba Samri said 
Tuesday's landing was the closest to the airport since fighting began on July 8.

   While Hamas rockets aren't as sophisticated as the guided missile that the 
U.S. and others contend hit the Malaysian jet, they can cause massive damage if 
they hit an aircraft. For instance, unguided mortar fire in Tripoli from a 
militia batting to control its international airport destroyed a $113 million 
Airbus A330 used by Libya's state-owned Afriqiyah Airways over the weekend.

   Last year, an average of 1,044 passengers flew each way on the four daily 
flights between the U.S. and Israel on American carriers, according to the 
Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

   Jack Ram, 50, of Tel Aviv, who was in New York visiting friends, said 
threats of violence and disruptions while traveling were nothing new for 
Israelis. He prayed Tuesday before entering the departure area at Newark, New 
Jersey, for his El Al flight to Israel.

   "We're used to it. That's how we live for the last 30 . 3,000 years 
actually," Ram said.

   Jonathan Reiter, a prominent New York aviation-accident attorney, said 
flying into an airport after a near-miss by a rocket could be used to show that 
the airline was negligent. That explains why the airlines are suspending 
service to Israel.

   "I'm sure it is human concern as well," Reiter said, "but I think (the 
airlines) feel it is wise to err on the side of caution because it is their 
burden to prove they are doing everything possible to avoid injuries and 
deaths."


(KA)


 
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