British Airways defies warning and keeps flying to Tel Aviv's airport
Airliner continues flights despite warning from aviation authorities as Kerry arrives to try to reach ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas
British Airways has defied a European Aviation Safety Agency warning that services to Tel Aviv be suspended in an effort to ensure passenger safety as turmoil in Israel and the surrounding region intensified.
Traffic at Ben Gurion airport, Israel's international hub, has dwindled after a rocket landed 1,600 metres away, prompting the US Federal Aviation Administration to impose a ban on flights by American carriers. Europe's aviation regulator also warned airlines not to fly to Tel Aviv.
The flight suspensions grabbed the attention of a global aviation community still grappling with the downing last week of a Malaysia Airlines jet over strife-torn Ukraine with nearly 300 passengers and crew on board.
But BA's actions illustrate the sometimes contradictory responses among carriers to guidance from governing bodies that remains open to interpretation.
"Safety and security are our highest priorities, and we continue to monitor the situation closely," BA spokesman Philip Allport said.
BA's biggest European competitors Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa have suspended flights, as has EasyJet, the biggest discount operator serving Ben Gurion airport. El Al Israel Airlines vowed to keep flying and has offered to assist airlines with rebookings.
US carriers Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines were the first to announce cancellations until further notice, followed by flight stoppages by European carriers, including Air France and Germany's Lufthansa.
The widespread cancellations are the first for Tel Aviv since Iraq's Scud missile bombardment during the 1991 Gulf war, according to Israel's Aviation Authority. Increasingly sophisticated missiles fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip are putting more of Israel within range.
The FAA said it had planned to update US airlines later yesterday on the Tel Aviv restrictions. The agency already prohibits American carriers from flying over Libya and parts of Ethiopia.
The no-fly order came amid a flurry of diplomacy to get Hamas and Israel to declare a truce after more than two weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip. More than 630 Palestinians and about 30 Israelis have been killed in the violence. Israel says its troops have killed hundreds of Hamas gunmen, while Gaza officials say the vast majority of deaths have been civilians, many of them children.
Yesterday, the top US diplomat flew into Israel's main airport despite an FAA ban in an apparent sign of his determination to achieve a cease-fire agreement. US Secretary of State John Kerry planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during what appeared to be a crucial day in the flailing talks.
US officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza. Israeli officials said the precautionary US step was unnecessary and "gave terror a prize" by reacting to Hamas' threats.
Reuters, Bloomberg, Associated Press