Most Foreign Carriers Resuming Flights to Tel Aviv Following Brief Ban

Finance Ministry officials express concern about the cut-off of air service, but past experience shows that economy recovers quickly from military hostilities.

Nir Keidar

Ben-Gurion International Airport is expected to return to an almost full complement of flights today, after U.S. and European carriers that had curtailed their services earlier this week due to the security situation resumed flying to and from Israel over the weekend.

The cancellation of flights followed an order by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday that imposed a temporary ban on flights to Israel by U.S. carriers. This followed rocket fire damaging a home in the town of Yehud, north of the airport. The three U.S. carriers serving the airport are Delta, United and U.S. Airways.

European aviation officials followed suit with a recommendation against operating flights to Tel Aviv. Israeli officials insisted that flights in and out of Ben-Gurion airport were safe and most airlines have now reinstated service, but more than 500 outgoing and incoming flights were affected, involving about 100,000 passengers.

Israeli carriers El Al, Arkia and Israir maintained their service throughout the week, and El Al in particular substantially beefed up its capacity to handle the backlog.

Nonetheless, the curtailed flights by some foreign carriers – which also included major airlines such as the German carrier Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Air France, Air Canada, EasyJet and Alitalia, but not British Airways or Czech Airlines – left thousands of Israelis stranded abroad. Turkish Airlines resumed flights yesterday afternoon, dispatching two flights one after another.

Although the curtailment by foreign carriers was relatively brief, senior Finance Ministry officials have expressed concern about the potential precedent it could present, with such cutoffs in the future potentially affecting Israel’s economic growth.

Although Israeli carriers continued to operate, major disruptions in air service here could affect Israel’s image as a nation open for business on a worldwide basis, officials said. If Israel had become relatively isolated due to a limited air travel service, it could have been perceived as a sign that doing business here was risky and uncertain, they noted.

The very short duration of the disruption of flights at this point appears to have prevented such long-term damage, but officials still found the precedent disturbing.

The tourism sector is the primary branch of the Israeli economy that has been hurt by the fighting, ministry officials said. But beyond that, the effect of the hostilities depends, of course, on how much longer they last. Past experience indicates that the economy has recovered very quickly from the effects of military confrontations with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Although ministry officials continue to follow the situation closely, they are not altering their economic forecasts for 2015.

Despite the rocket fire directed at Israel’s major cities, the country’s Iron Dome rocket interception system has minimized personal injury and property damage to the civilian sector. Three civilians have been killed in nearly three weeks of rocket and mortar fire directed at the country – a volunteer who was distributing food to soldiers on the Gaza border; a Bedouin man in the Negev who had no bomb shelter or secure space at his disposal; and a Thai agricultural worker who was situated not far from the border.