European airlines response to the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) decision to place an immediate ban on flights from the US to Israel for 24 hours is a perfectly understandable one provided it is only very temporary. While the US ban on flights of Delta, United and US Airways covers an initial period of 24 hours two of the three airlines have already said they will discontinue flights for a longer period. That is their choice and we must recognise that the very strong ties between the US and Israel may require a different set of choices to made by the US regulatory authorities than by those over here in Europe.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) chose to follow the FAA recommendation suggesting that airlines should avoid operating to and from Tel Aviv although it rightly in my view stopped short of ordering a full ban. While the imposition of a 24 hours ban on flights from the US to Israel by the FAA in response to the rocket attack that landed close by to Ben Gurion Airport is understandable, I consider that the decision by some European airlines that have chosen to suspend flights indefinitely is an overreaction to events.
Clearly despite intense Israeli security effort to ensure that the airport at Ben Gurion is adequately protected from the substantial number of rocket attacks being launched from the Gaza Strip there can be no absolute guarantee that the airport is safe. It is right that western airlines should take precautionary measures, but is also important in my view that they should not be seen to be playing into the hands of those launching the rocket attacks on Israel by overreacting to events. Israel has been suffering rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip for years and none has yet reached Ben Gurion airport. I am not seeking to be complacent but we do need to accept that the Israeli authorities know of the dangers and I am in no doubt that the airport is adequately protected.
While airlines such as Air France-KLM, EasyJet, Air Canada, Alitalia and Lufthansa have banned flights to Israel for short period of time, and others have imposed a two day ban, British Airways has rightly in my view chosen to continue monitoring the situation.
While it is perfectly understandable that the US regulatory authorities should, due to the specific ties that the US has with Israel, take a temporary and more restrictive line on US airlines flying to Israel for a short period, I believe that the response taken by British Airways is more suitable to current events.
This is not the first time that flights to Israel have been suspended, but it is the first time since 1973. In the wake of the dreadful MH17 tragedy last week when missiles fired by terrorist brought down a Malaysian Airlines jet killing all on board, airline and general public awareness of the dangers of terrorist attacks has been naturally heightened.
Of course there are risks but we must be very careful in how we react to the potential of terrorist threats. Banning flights plays into the hands of attackers and for Israel the potential for economic damage is massive. However one chooses to view the long standing impasse between Israel and Palestine whilst we must not be complacent in terms of any threat to airline passenger safety we must be careful not to play into the hands of those attempting to create fear.
CHW (London 23rd July 2014)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
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