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July 29, 2014

LA Times Letter Error: Michael Bloomberg Took Private Jet

Bloomberg El Al.jpg
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu greets former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg at Ben-Gurion Airport, July 23, 2014. Photo: HAIM ZACH/GPO

Jean-Claude Demirdjian of Los Angeles, a retired Boeing 747 captain whose letters are frequently published in The Los Angeles Times, writes today:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement last week about the Federal Aviation Administration's brief ban on U.S. flights to Israel — that "there's no reason whatsoever for the mistaken FAA decision to instruct American planes not to come here" — is wrong. ("FAA caution on Israel flights reflects concern after Ukraine incident," July 23)

Although Netanyahu believes that the rocket that landed near Ben Gurion International Airport does not make the airport unsafe, he should know that the U.S. Air Force planes that transport Secretary of State John Kerry, contrary to passenger airliners, are equipped with anti-missile defenses. And former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was willing to take a calculated risk by flying in his own plane to Israel.

Commercial airline passengers, on the other hand, have a right to assume that there is no risk of being blown out of the sky. The FAA acted within its mission to provide the safest air travel possible.

Except that Former Mayor Bloomberg, himself a former pilot, did not fly in his own plane to Israel. As was widely reported, including also in The Los Angeles Times, Mayor Bloomberg flew to Israel this month on a commercial El Al flight. The Times' Timothy M. Phelps and Rebecca Bratek reported July 24 ("FAA caution reflects downing of airliner"):

Kerry at least gave Israel a psychological boost Wednesday, flying in his government jet into Ben Gurion Airport from Egypt. So did former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, on El Al.

While Los Angeles Times editors are free to publish challenges to assertions that commercial flights to Ben-Gurion Airport are safe, they are not free to publish factual misinformation. Stay tuned for news about a correction.

1:30 PM EST Update: The Los Angeles Times has promised to publish a correction tomorrow.

Posted by TS at July 29, 2014 10:48 AM


The problem is that everyone is wrong here. The anti-missile systems used by the U.S. government airplanes (and also believed to be installed on El Al commercial jets) are designed to counteract heat-seeking missiles (surface-to-air or SAM systems) like the ones used to down the Malaysian Airlines jet over the Ukraine. The rockets being fired into Israel by Hamas are not heat-seeking missiles and, in fact, lack even rudimentary guidance systems. They are, in effect, point-and-shoot weapons. The probability that they will hit a specific airplane either parked at a gate, taxiing to or from a runway, or in flight are virtually nill.

So not only was the LA Times wrong to publish Jean-Claude Demirdjian's comments, but so, too, the FAA (and individual airlines) for failing to use facts in making a decision to ban flights from TLV.

Posted by: Ron Moritz at July 29, 2014 02:53 PM

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