ATW Editor's Blog

Delta CEO talks about his Tel Aviv decision and his carrier’s “higher duty of care”


In an interview today on US station CNBC, Delta Air Lines’ CEO Richard Anderson talks about his airline’s decision to suspend flights to Tel Aviv before FAA issued a ban.

FAA issued a NOTAM yesterday, extending it for up to another 24 hours today, prohibiting US carriers from flying in or out of Ben Gurion International Airport after rocket fire in the area, with one rocket landing about a mile from the airport.

But Delta had already taken action well before the NOTAM was issued. One of its aircraft, a Boeing 747 enroute from New York JFK to Tel Aviv, diverted to Paris yesterday after the rocket incident was reported. Delta then suspended all flights to Israel, giving no date for when services might be restored.

In his TV interview, Anderson says that the call was made by him and Delta COO Gil West and was made “wholly independent of any geopolitical or regulatory mandate”.

He said Delta routinely makes what he calls “Delta no-fly zone” decisions, assessing regions that the Atlanta-based carrier avoids if deemed dangerous. Right now, he said, Delta is not flying to Israel or over Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria or Ukraine.

“But we are going to need concrete information from our government that allows us to come to our own independent conclusion and that takes into account our much higher duty of care to our passengers and our employees,” Anderson said.

I applaud Anderson for that “higher duty of care” company mandate. There is no question that an airline’s highest duty is to provide the safest possible passage to its customers and employees. And, of course, the vast majority airlines far exceed regulatory safety rules, just as the makers of airliners and commercial jet engines aim always to exceed safety standards.

I think the Delta CEO raises two points. First, airlines can make their own, independent calls on safe air routes – they do not need to wait for a regulatory prohibition. That’s a particularly pertinent point now, when we have a situation where FAA has a ban in place regarding Tel Aviv, which applies only to US carriers, while Europe’s EASA has stepped back from a full ban and only “strongly recommends” that airlines do not fly into Tel Aviv until further notice.

Some European carriers, most notably Lufthansa Group airlines, are suspending services. But following the Delta example, it’s worth pointing out that none needs to wait for a regulatory ban.

Second, Anderson’s note that airlines need concrete information from governments is critical given the events of this week and the MH17 shootdown. I can foresee an industry/government task force emerging that looks precisely into how that information is gathered and disseminated.

As I wrote in my earlier blog, the small wars that ignite – often at short notice and without being anticipated – are especially dangerous because of their unpredictability and the sophisticated weapons they employ, often in the hands of non-state rebels for whom a downed commercial airliner might be as valid a target as a military fighter aircraft.

So airlines , industry and governments are going to need to come up with a continuous “danger zone” monitoring system that does not unduly burden the air transportation system but which does help airlines form their own risk assessment plans and make their own, independent calls on where and when it’s too dangerous to fly.

Anderson would be a great asset on any such task force.

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