Major US, European and Canadian airlines have cancelled flights to and from Israel after a rocket fired from Gaza struck near its main international airport in Tel Aviv.
The cancellations highlighted heightened worldwide fears of a rocket hitting a passenger jet in the wake of last week’s downing of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine with nearly 300 on board.
That incident underscored the vulnerability of commercial aircraft to surface-to-air missiles, even at cruising altitudes in excess of 30,000 feet (9140 metres).
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned US airlines from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport for at least 24 hours, citing the ongoing crisis in Gaza.
Delta, US Airways and United Airlines heeded the order, with Delta diverting a Tel Aviv-bound Boeing 747 with 273 passengers and 17 crew on board to Paris.
“Due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza, all flight operations to/from Ben Gurion International Airport by US operators are prohibited until further advised,” said the FAA’s Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, issued shortly after 1600 GMT.
“This NOTAM will be updated within 24 hours,” it added.
Air France said it was cancelling its Tel Aviv flights “until further notice”.
Lufthansa said it was doing likewise, for 72 hours, while KLM Royal Dutch Airlines suspended its services as well, citing “security reasons”.
Air Canada also cancelled service to and from Tel Aviv on Tuesday, and said on Twitter it would “continue to evaluate going forward & update”.
British Airways and its low-cost rival EasyJet, however, maintained their flights.
“We continue to operate as normal,” a British Airways spokesman said.
“Safety and security are our highest priorities and we continue to monitor the situation closely.”