Airlines Suspend Israel Flights Over Missile Fears

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Delta planeCredit: Bloomberg

The FAA issued a notice on Tuesday suspending all U.S. flights to and from Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport "for a period of up to 24 hours."

The notice came following Tuesday's rocket attack on Yehud, a town just a few miles from Ben-Gurion airport.

Delta Airlines issued a separate statement announcing they are suspending all their flights indefinitely.

Several European airlines have also suspended their flights to and from Israel. KLM canceled its Amsterdam-Tel Aviv flight on Tuesday, Lufthansa - which includes Germanwings, Austrian Airlines and Swiss Air - suspended all flights for the next 36 hours, and Air France suspended flights indefinitely.

The Europe Air Safety Agency (EASA) plans on issuing a "strong recommendation" to avoid Ben-Gurion International Airport until further notice.

Air Canada cancelled Tuesday's departing flight and Wednesday's return flight to Israel, as well.

As a result of the decision, a Delta Airlines Boeing 747 from New York that was flying over the Mediterranean headed for Tel Aviv on Tuesday turned around and flew to Paris instead. Flight 468 had 273 passengers and 17 crew on board.

U.S. Airways, which has one daily flight from Philadelphia, canceled that flight Tuesday and the return trip from Tel Aviv. United Airlines, which has two flights daily to Israel out of Newark, N.J., has announced that it will be operating flights as usual.

Israel has been in touch with the United States, Russia and international aviation authorities over the past two weeks in an effort to prevent them from canceling flights to Israel amid an escalation in fighting with the Gaza Strip.

An internal Civil Aviation Authority document reveals that the country is taking pains to avoid flight cancelations, despite rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel and the Israel Defense Forces operation in the Strip.

The document, signed by CAA Director General Giora Romm, describes what has been happening behind the scenes:

“The Civil Aviation Authority has been in contact with international aviation bodies,” it says, “For example, it has been in ongoing contact with the upper echelon of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration - the FAA - and with Russia, via the Russian transportation minister.

“The main concerns expressed by the civil aviation authorities of various countries was for the safety of their countries’ planes during flights to Israel. In addition, contact was maintained with Israeli and foreign airlines.”

The document was delivered to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and his director general, Uzi Yitzhak.

Israel's Transportation Ministry called on the airlines to reverse their decision and said it was trying to explain that the airport was "safe for landings and departures."

"Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize," it said in a statement.

On Sunday, Norwegian Air Shuttle announced that it was canceling flights from Copenhagen to Israel, thereby joining Korean Air, which canceled all flights this week to and from Seoul to Israel over the security situation.

On Monday, the State Department warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, citing the fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas.

"The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens consider the deferral of non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank and reaffirms the longstanding strong warning to U.S. citizens against any travel to the Gaza Strip," the State Department said, adding the warning replaced a previous one issued on Feb. 3.

"The security environment remains complex in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and U.S. citizens need to be aware of the risks of travel to these areas because of the current conflict between Hamas and Israel," the statement added.

Passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport after flights to the U.S. were cancelled on July 22, 2014.Credit: David Bachar

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