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U.S. President Barack Obama

Absent those two militarily sophisticated enemies of the United States, Israel’s is the only airport on which a categorical ban has been placed.

What about other violent settings around the world? Every single one has merely a “should avoid” safety warning. That’s true for Syria, for Iraq, for Iran, for Yemen and for the Sinai Peninsula.


Dyer pointed out that when she served in the U.S. military in Bosnia-Herzogovina in the 1990’s, when it was an official war zone, the FAA refrained from issuing a U.S. flight ban.

Why would that be? If the FAA is so concerned about the air safety of American citizens, how come there is no flight ban on Afghanistan or Pakistan?

The answer, according to Dyer, is commerce.

A primary, if not the primary, relationship the U.S. has with most countries is commerce. A travel ban to any nation cuts off that commercial relationship in a profound way. The FAA is tasked with ensuring the safety of American citizens, but a central concern is also the continuation of relationships between nations.

And that is why Dyer finds it inconceivable that the FAA would take such an anomolous step without close consultation with the State Department and with the White House.

“The FAA simply does not have the latitude to do this by itself,” Dyer explained. As she explained in a must-read article about the ban, the decision either did come directly from the White House, or was approved by the president. Or if it wasn’t, it should have been.

Cutting off her commercial airport from U.S. carriers is inherently a presidential-level decision, and Obama is responsible whether he made it or not,” Dyer wrote.

“I was shocked when I heard about the flight ban on Israel,” Dyer said.

There are several glaring distinctions between the action taken by the FAA with respect to its ban on U.S. flights into and out of Israel and other actions it has taken when local hostilities create a security concern for the government entity responsible for air traffic and safety.

There are, unfortunately, quite a few places around the globe right now where violent conflicts are taking place in proximity to airports. Syria, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, the Sinai Peninsula, Yemen and the Ukraine spring immediately to mind. In fact, there has been a civil war raging in Syria for three years now, in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. The FAA has yet to issue a single total ban on U.S. flights to Syria. The same is true in Iraq. And in both of those last two countries, at least one of the combatants have and have used surface to air missiles.

In Pakistan, the situation is even worse. Within a thirty day period there have been multiple attacks on commercial airports, one in Peshawar and another on the airport in Karachi. And yet, U.S. airlines continue to fly into and out of both the Peshawar and Karachi airports, with merely a simple safety warning from the FAA.

On June 24, just a month ago, A Pakistani Taliban offshoot attacked an A310 Airbus as it landed at the Peshawar airport. The attack was launched from the roof of a nearby school. One passenger was killed and three crew members were injured. And in the Karachi attack, nearly a dozen Taliban terrorists stormed the airport with the intention of maintaining a long siege.

No ban on U.S. flights into Pakistan.

So, there goes the safety concern. It isn’t irrational for a government agency to seek to limit the dangers its citizens may encounter abroad. But it is something approaching irrational – and it may even be worse than that – for a government agency to respond so strongly, so completely and so swiftly over a relatively minor incident when wars being waged on a regular basis around other airports, and direct attacks on airports and efforts to hold hostages in airports result in far more lackadaisical responses.


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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: [email protected]