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updated: 7/24/2014 6:41 AM

FAA lifts ban on US flights to Tel Aviv airport

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Associated Press

The Federal Aviation Administration has lifted its ban on U.S. flights in and out of Israel, which the agency had imposed out of concern for the risk of planes being hit by Hamas rockets.

The decision was effective at 11:45 p.m. EDT Wednesday.

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"Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation," the FAA said. "The agency will continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions as necessary."

The FAA instituted a 24-hour prohibition Tuesday in response to a rocket strike that landed about a mile from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. The directive, which was extended Wednesday, applied only to U.S. carriers.

The FAA has no authority over foreign airlines operating in Israel, although the European Aviation Safety Agency late Tuesday said it "strongly recommends" that airlines refrain from operating flights to and from Tel Aviv. Some European carriers, including Air France and Lufthansa, extended flight cancelations through Thursday.

The FAA's flight ban was criticized by the Israeli government and by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who questioned whether President Barack Obama used a federal agency to impose an economic boycott on Israel.

Delta Air Lines, which diverted a jumbo jet away from Tel Aviv before Tuesday's ban by the FAA, will not necessarily resume flights to Israel even if U.S. authorities declare the area safe, the airline's CEO said before the FAA lifted the ban.

CEO Richard Anderson said Delta would of course obey FAA orders but would continue to make its own decisions about safety.

"We appreciate the advice and consent and the intelligence we get, but we have a duty and an obligation above and beyond that to independently make the right decisions for our employees and passengers," Anderson said on a conference call with reporters. "Even if they lift" the prohibition on flying in and out of Ben Gurion Airport, "we still may not go in depending on what the facts and circumstances are."

Anderson declined to discuss specifically how the airline would make the decision to resume the flights and spoke only in general terms. He said the airline decides whether flights are safe to operate "on an independent basis, so we will evaluate the information we have and we will make the judgment that our passengers and employees rely on us to make for them every day."

The CEO of Middle East carrier Emirates said after the shoot-down in Ukraine of a Malaysia Airlines jet last week that global airlines need better risk assessment from international aviation authorities. Delta, however, seemed more inclined to go it alone.

"We have a broad and deep security network around the world," Anderson said. "We have security directors that work for Delta in all the regions of the world, and we have a very sophisticated capability and methodology to manage these kinds of risks, whether it's this or a volcano or a hurricane."

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