U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv Wednesday in an effort to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas that would halt fighting in the Gaza Strip, even as aviation regulators restricted carriers in the U.S. and Europe from flying there following an attack near the city's Ben Gurion International Airport.
On Tuesday, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, also flew to Israel to protest the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to halt American flights to and from the country, the Jerusalem Post reported. The FAA had, on Tuesday, ordered all U.S.-based airlines to stop flying into Tel Aviv's airport for a period of 24 hours following reports of a Hamas rocket strike that landed about a mile from the Ben Gurion airport earlier in the day.
Bloomberg posted about his trip on Twitter, saying: "This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel." The former mayor also said that "flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately," according to the Jerusalem Post.
Eighty flights that were scheduled to depart between 6:00 p.m. Tuesday and 6:00 p.m. Wednesday local time (11 a.m. Tuesday to 11 a.m. Wednesday EDT) have been reportedly cancelled. The FAA is expected to announce on Wednesday whether to continue the suspension of flights to Israel.
All American carriers stopped services to Israel after the FAA directive, issued on Tuesday, while several European carriers too suspended flights after the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an advisory.
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“The FAA immediately notified US carriers when the agency learned of the rocket strike and informed them that the agency was finalizing a [Notice to Airmen]” an FAA statement said.
U.S based Delta Air Lines, Inc (NYSE:DAL) and United Airlines reportedly said they were suspending flights to Israel “indefinitely,” while U.S. Airways reportedly only suspended night flights. Deutsche Lufthansa AG (ETR:LHA) announced a 36-hour suspension, which extended to subsidiaries Germanwings, Austrian Airlines and Swiss Airlines, while Air France announced an indefinite suspension of flights to Israel.
The Jerusalem Post quoted an industry source as saying: “As soon as the FAA gives such an order to US carriers, in most cases it’s a domino effect, and most European carriers will be forced to suspend their flights.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Delta diverted flight 468, from New York's JFK airport to Tel Aviv with 273 passengers and 17 crew members, to Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport “after reports of a rocket or associated debris near the airport in Tel Aviv,” and said that it was working to accommodate its customers.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday evening, asking him to help restore regular flights to Israel from the U.S., while Israeli Transportation Minister Israel Katz said: "There is no reason for the American companies to stop their flights and give a prize to terror,” and appealed to American airliners to resume flying to the country, stressing that Ben Gurion Airport was safe for take-offs and landings, and that there was no security concern for passenger planes.
Hamas has strategically targeted the airport to stop or slow down air traffic while Israeli aviation authorities have been in touch with FAA officials seeking to reassure them that adequate air defense and safety precautions were in place, reports said.
Israel’s national carrier, El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TLV:ELAL) has increased flight services to Western destinations to help stranded Israelis return home, according to the Jerusalem Post. El Al announced that it would replace its regular Boeing 737 model with a 747 jumbo jet to service passengers on Flight 347 to Zurich. El Al also reportedly sent bigger planes to Brussels and Bucharest while adding flights to Cyprus and Greece.