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October 31, 2014

Kerry Arrives at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport Despite FAA Ban on U.S. Flights (Video)

A flight carrying Secretary of State John Kerry landed Wednesday at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to negotiate a cease-fire agreement to halt fighting between Hamas and Israel in which more than 600 people have been killed.

Kerry made the trip despite a ban imposed Tuesday by the Federal Aviation Administration on flights by U.S. airlines to Ben Gurion, Israel’s only international airport. The FAA order, which came after a rocket landed within about a mile of  the airport, has caused an awkward political rift between the United States and Israel.

Israel’s Transportation Ministry said Tuesday that the airport “is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize.”

Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson told CNBC in an interview Wednesday morning that his airline had made its decision to not land flights at Ben Gurion early Tuesday morning “well before” the FAA announced its flight ban.

“We have a much higher duty of care and we have to make the right decision for the flight attendants, the customers, and pilots on our flights,” he said.

“We routinely at Delta establish what we call ‘Delta no-fly zones.’ Today, for instance, we’re not flying to Israel. We will not allow flights to be dispatched over Iran, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, or North Korea,” Anderson said.

He said Delta makes those decisions “wholly independently of any geopolitical or regulatory mandate.”

In addition to U.S. carriers canceling flights to Ben Gurion Airport, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Air France, and other foreign airlines also cancelled flights that had been scheduled to arrive Wednesday.

But Aeroflot and Ukraine International flights had landed, as well as flights by El Al, Israel’s national airline, according to the web site of Israel’s Airports Authority.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday night that “This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel. Ben Gurion is the best protected airport in the world and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely.”

He argued that the FAA’s flight ban was “a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately. I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit US airlines to fly to Israel.”

Also voicing concern about a propaganda win for Israel’s enemies if the FAA ban were to shut off international travel to the country, Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., told CNN Tuesday night that while the FAA had an obligation to ensure Americans are safe, the United States “can’t allow Hamas and other terrorists” to “score these type [of] victories.”

The FAA issued its Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) at 12:15 Eastern time Tuesday “for a period of up to 24 hours” and said it would “continue to monitor and evaluate the situation. Updated instructions will be provided to U.S. airlines as soon as conditions permit, but no later than 24 hours from the time the NOTAM went into force.”

On Tuesday evening, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Kerry spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday evening “and among the issues raised by the Prime Minister was the FAA’s notice today about Ben Gurion Airport. The FAA’s notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers. The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens.”

Another State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denied that the FAA flight ban was intended to pressure Netanyahu into agreeing to a truce.

Commercial aviation safety has become a more urgent issue after last week’s shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 passengers and crew.

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