NEW YORK – The U.S. airlines serving Israel will resume flights there Thursday, following a two-day hiatus caused by combat in the Gaza Strip.
The decision came hours after the Federal Aviation Administration lifted a prohibition on U.S. flights in and out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. The FAA’s ban, imposed out of concern for the risk of planes being hit by Hamas rockets, became a hot button topic in both U.S.-Israeli diplomacy and Washington politics.
Chicago-based United Airlines is set to resume service to Tel Aviv with a 4:45 p.m. eastern flight from Newark, New Jersey. A second United flight will leave Newark at 10:50 p.m. eastern.
US Airways one daily flight departs Philadelphia at 9:10 p.m. Delta Air Lines sole flight to Tel Aviv will take off Thursday night at 11:57 p.m. from New York.
“The decision comes after careful internal consideration and input from high levels in government including the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation,” Delta said in a statement. A Delta 747 turned around Tuesday on its way to Tel Aviv after a rocket landed near the airport. US Airways and United followed by canceling their flights, and the FAA instituted its ban.
The Israeli government felt the airlines and regulators overreacted. The Transportation Ministry called on the companies to reverse their decision, insisting the airport was safe and completely guarded and saying there was no reason to “hand terror a prize,” by halting the flights. The ban filtered into discussions in Jerusalem about a Gaza cease-fire that included U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the U.S., Sen. Ted Cruz accused President Obama of using the flight ban to impose an economic boycott of Israel while it is fighting the militant group Hamas in Gaza.
The airlines wouldn’t say what has changed to make Tel Aviv safer than it had been 24 hours earlier. Robert Isom, chief operating officer of US Airways’ parent American Airlines, told reporters on an earnings conference call that, “We feel very comfortable with the information that we have right now. We’re doing the right thing, and feel very comfortable that our employees and our customers are safe.”
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.
Israeli airline El Al maintained its five daily flights from the U.S. to Tel Aviv throughout the ban, which only applied to American carriers. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took one of those flights Wednesday, in a bid to show it was safe to fly to Israel.