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Next spring 747 freighters will no longer be allowed to fly to Israel, a major producer of high-tech products and pharmaceuticals. On 31 March, 2023 a ban on four-engine aircraft will come into effect. After that date such planes will only be admitted under exceptional circumstances, provided the operators obtain a special permission in advance.
The ban was announced by the Israel Airport Authority, which cited sustainability and environmental concerns. Hagai Topolanksi, the authority’s director general, described it as the first step in a broader plan that is currently being formulated to address these issues.
The ban will come into effect at the start of the summer schedule, but some observers believe that the authorities may try to discourage operators from flying four-engine jets in and out of the country already before then, aviation market intelligence and consulting firm IBA noted.
It will have no impact on passenger operations, as passenger carriers flying to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport are not using 747s, A340s or A380s. National flag carrier El Al no longer flies 747s, having replaced them with 777s and 787s.
Essentially the ban is hitting cargo operators. According to IBA, about 98% of four-engine aircraft departures from Tel Aviv this year have been cargo flights.
First and foremost, this affects CAL Cargo Airlines, which has its base at Ben Gurion airport. International all-cargo carriers serving Tel Aviv with 747 freighters are ACT Airlines and Silk Way West Airlines.
There have been suggestions that the authorities may grant exemptions, particularly to CAL, but observers doubt this will materialise. If the Israeli authorities were to allow CAL to operate its current service to New York via Liege while barring Atlas Air, the US DoT would likely withdraw permission for the Israeli carrier to fly to the US, one industry executive commented.
The environmental aspect does not present a strong case for the ban on four-engine planes. A 747-8 has considerably lower fuel burn and carbon footprint than an older 777-200. On the passenger side an A380 may have a larger overall carbon footprint than some twin-engine models, but on a per-passenger basis this is smaller.
In any case, the ban will hardly usher in a significant improvement in CO2 emissions at Tel Aviv. According to IBA NetZero, IBA’s finance-focused carbon modelling tool, four-engine planes accounted for a mere 0.8% of departures from Ben Gurion this year, representing 2.2% of total CO2 emissions on departures.
Some observers suspect that the ban has other motives, possibly to forestall a move by Emirates to fly A380s to Tel Aviv. The airline started daily passenger flights with 777 equipment between Tel Aviv and Dubai in June and announced one month later that it would add a second daily flight at the end of October.
Still, the ban raises questions if other national aviation authorities might move in the same direction. To date, there is no indication of such plans, but some politicians might find the populist appeal tempting, regardless of the CO2 facts.
Should 747 freighter operators be concerned?
Baldvin Mar Hermannsson, CEO of Air Atlanta Icelandic, is not.
“Air Atlanta has noted the decision to ban future four-engine aircraft operations into Israeli airports,” he remarked.
“It however does not impact on Air Atlanta’s current or planned operations, nor does it have any affect the airline’s fleet planning. The 747-400 freighter, with its unique operating capabilities and range, will remain vital to the world’s supply- and logistics chains for several more years,” he continued.
Atlas Air and Cargolux did not respond to requests for comment.