Airlines halt flights to Israel over missile fears

World Today

A departure board shows information regarding Air France Flight 1320 to Tel Aviv, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, at the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport. Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Air France said Tuesday they are suspending service to Israel indefinitely. US Airways scrapped its Tel Aviv service Tuesday and said it is monitoring the situation in regards to future flights. Photo by AP/Thibault Camus

In a sign of increased caution about flying near combat zones, U.S. and European airlines halted flights to Israel Tuesday after a rocket landed near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines suspended service between the U.S. and Israel indefinitely, and US Airways scrapped its one daily flight to Tel Aviv. Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France also suspended flights. The actions come days after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board.

Following the cancellations by the American airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. airlines from flying to the Tel Aviv airport for 24 hours. The ban began at 12:15 p.m. EDT on Tuesday following a Hamas rocket explosion one mile from the airport.

According to an FAA statement released Tuesday:

Due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza, all flight operations to and from Ben Gurion International Airport by U.S. operators are prohibited until further advised.

The European Aviation Safety Agency on Tuesday also “strongly recommends” airlines avoid Tel Aviv airport.

Israel’s Transportation Ministry called on the airlines to reverse their decision, saying 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.

Aviation and legal experts said Tuesday that airlines are now taking risk assessment into their own hands, both for the safety of passengers and to avoid claims of negligence. Aviation consultant Robert Mann said airlines are becoming more proactive in the wake of the MH17 disaster.

“It’s really forcing every carrier, every business jet operator to do their own due diligence, do their own risk assessment, given the geopolitical situation,” Mann said.

Israeli police confirmed that a rocket from Gaza landed in an area near the airport. Police spokeswomen Luba Samri said Tuesday’s rocket landing was the closest to the airport since fighting began on July 8.

There are four international airports in Israel: Ben Gurion, Ovda, Eilat, and Haifa. The Jerusalem Airport is currently not used.

This story was compiled from information by the Associated Press.