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updated: 7/24/2014 11:10 AM

United to resume flights to israel as other airlines plot return

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Bloomberg News

Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc. and Alitalia SpA are resuming flights to Tel Aviv as other airlines weigh their options following an almost two-day halt in service to Israel because of concern about rocket fire.

American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and Deutsche Lufthansa AG are among the carriers assessing the security and have yet to announce a decision on restoring arrivals and departures at Israel's busiest airport.

"We're not going to do it unless we are absolutely, positively certain" employees and passengers will be safe, American Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker said today in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Ben Gurion International airport is the primary gateway in and out of the nation, and the decisions to suspend flights were chided by some Israeli officials and U.S. lawmakers as overreaction to the escalating standoff between Israel and Hamas-led fighters in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which had ordered domestic airlines on July 22 to steer clear of Tel Aviv, lifted its ban 36 hours later.

Transport Minister Israel Katz early today praised the U.S. move to end the restrictions and said on Israeli Army Radio that his government would be in touch with Europe about resuming flights.

The European Aviation Safety Agency had recommended the suspension of service to Tel Aviv, guidance that was ignored by British Airways. Competitors including Lufthansa and Air France- KLM Group suspended flights.

Alitalia Restarts

Lufthansa hasn't yet decided beyond yesterday's announcement to halt services for another 24 hours. Air France- KLM said it follows recommendations from the European aviation agency EASA and the French aviation authority DGAC, both of which had not yet given their go-aheads. Korean Air said it will pause flights to Tel Aviv until at least July 31.

Alitalia restarted service today with a departure at 3:05 p.m. from Italy, Rome Airport manager ADR said on its website.

Air Canada is resuming flights tonight, as is Luton, England-based EasyJet Plc, the biggest discount operator serving the Tel Aviv airport.

"This decision is based on our own assessment and that of regulators of the situation and in consultation with others in the airline community," Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said in an e-mail.

More than two weeks of fighting between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip has left more than 700 people dead, including hundreds of Palestinian civilians. On July 22 a rocket landed about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) away from Ben Gurion airport, prompting the FAA to halt U.S. flights in and out of Tel Aviv. The incident occurred less than a week after a Malaysian Air passenger jet was downed by a missile while flying over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.

Security Assessment

Flights by U.S. carriers to Israel were cleared to resume yesterday starting at 11:45 p.m. New York time, the FAA said last night in a statement.

The decision to end the restrictions was based on "significant new information and measures the government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation," the FAA said in its e-mailed statement.

American has been working with the FAA and other airlines to assess the situation. The carrier has been monitoring the situation at Ben Gurion airport "for weeks, not days" using its own information and U.S. intelligence, Parker said. The carrier's next flight to Tel Aviv is scheduled to depart later today from Philadelphia and Parker said he is "hopeful" it will occur "based on what we know now."

The U.S. aviation agency said it would continue to monitor what it called "the very fluid situation" around Ben Gurion and vowed to take additional action if necessary.

Israel Tourism

Israel, where tourism accounts for about 7.3 percent of the nation's economy, had opened a smaller southern airport near Eilat to international flights as an alternative, though the 6,234-foot (1,900-meter) runway is too short to accommodate long-haul jets. El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. had said it would add an unspecified number of trips to Ben Gurion airport to accommodate stranded fliers.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Israel to help secure a truce as the country kept up air strikes against the Hamas-led Gaza Strip to quell a rocket barrage from the territory. Leaders of Hamas -- which the U.S., Israel and European Union list as a terrorist organization -- and Israeli officials gave no sign yesterday that a pause in the fighting was near.

Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and majority shareholder of Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg News, flew to Ben Gurion Airport on El Al yesterday to demonstrate that traveling there is safe.

Upon arrival, Bloomberg called Ben Gurion "probably the safest airport in the whole world." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who greeted him, said Bloomberg's trip showed there was no justification for the "mistaken" FAA flight ban.

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