* Agencies in United States, Europe move to ban flights
* FAA cites rocket strike near airport
* Israel transportation minister says Tel Aviv airport is
(Adds State Department, senior administration official
comments, paragraphs 10-13)
By Karen Jacobs
July 22 Air carriers in the United States and
Europe on Tuesday halted flights to Tel Aviv after warnings from
governmental agencies in an effort to ensure passenger safety as
turmoil in Israel and the region intensified.
U.S. carriers Delta Air Lines, American Airlines
Group and United Airlines were the first to
announce cancellations, followed by flight stoppages by European
carriers, including Germany's Lufthansa and Air France
Air Berlin, Germany's second-largest carrier, also said it
halted its flights through Wednesday, citing the situation on
the ground. Throughout the day, several airlines rerouted or
turned back flights already headed to Israel's financial center.
The flight suspensions grabbed the attention of a global
aviation community still grappling with the downing last week of
a Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine with nearly 300 aboard.
"The carriers are making the right call," said Robert Mann,
an airline consultant in Port Washington, New York. "They are
ultimately legally responsible for their operations and thus,
they have to be at least as cautious and in many cases more
cautious than any guideline that they are given."
The FAA said it told U.S. carriers that they were prohibited
from flying to or from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel
Aviv for up to 24 hours. In a statement, the agency said its
notice was issued in response to a rocket strike on Tuesday that
landed about a mile from the airport.
The text of the FAA notice cited "the potentially hazardous
situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza" in
prohibiting the flights by U.S. carriers.
Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, called for U.S. airlines to resume flights to Israel.
"There is no need for U.S. carriers to suspend flights and
reward terrorism," said a statement from Israel's Transportation
Minister Yisrael Katz.
The FAA notice was discussed in a call later on Tuesday
between Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, the U.S. State Department said.
"The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety
and security of our citizens," State Department spokeswoman Jen
Psaki said in a statement. "The FAA continues to monitor and
evaluate the situation, and will issue updated guidelines no
later than 24 hours from the time the (notice) went into force."
Asked about reports that Netanyahu had asked the FAA to
rescind the order, a senior Obama administration official said
he was not aware of the request, but added: "We're not going to
overrule the FAA, period."
"If the FAA says this crosses our tripwires, we're not going
to say 'Don't warn civil aviation.' We understand Israeli
concerns. They don't want to have a shutdown of air traffic into
Ben Gurion. We can look at this every 24 hours, but (when) a
rocket lands a mile from that airport, that kind of trips their
Europe's aviation regulator also warned airlines not to fly
to Tel Aviv. A spokesman said the European Aviation Safety
Agency would issue a bulletin by Wednesday containing a "strong
recommendation" that airlines avoid Ben Gurion Airport.
"The recommendation applies to all European airlines," the
spokesman said in an email.
Many airlines were allowing customers affected by the
cancellations to change their travel plans without penalty.
The flight cancellations came after Hamas, the militant
group that dominates in the Gaza Strip, and its allies fired
more rockets into Israel on Tuesday. One hit a town on the
fringes of Ben Gurion airport, lightly injuring two people,
Israel launched an offensive earlier in July to halt missile
salvoes out of Gaza by Hamas, which was angered by a crackdown
on its supporters in the occupied West Bank as well as economic
hardship due to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta, Tim Hepher in Paris,
Steven Scheer in Tel Aviv, Victoria Bryan in Berlin, Ludwig
Burger in Frankfurt and Steve Holland and Peter Cooney in
Washington; editing by G Crosse)