(CNSNews.com) – As airlines scrambled to suspend flights to Tel Aviv’s international airport over security fears arising from rocket fire from Gaza, Israeli authorities were urged to reroute flights to a smaller airport in the southern Negev.
After a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house about a mile from Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a 24-hour prohibition on U.S. carriers flying to or from the airport.
The notice did not apply to other nations’ airlines, but after the European Aviation Safety Agency issued a statement “strongly” recommending that airlines not fly to or from Ben Gurion, European carriers quickly began to comply.
According to the Israeli Airports Authority, dozens of flights were canceled, including services by Air Canada, Turkish Airlines, Dutch carrier KLM and Germany’s Lufthansa.
Delta Airlines diverted a JKF-Tel Aviv flight, a Boeing 747 with 273 passengers and 17 crew, to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Delta said it was working to re-accommodate affected passengers.
U.S. Airways and United canceled Israel-bound flights scheduled to leave from Philadelphia and Newark respectively.
Israel’s national carrier El Al said it was continuing its normal services, including five daily non-stop flights from the U.S., although it was also offering passengers the opportunity to reschedule flights through Friday without charge.
Ben Gurion is Israel’s main international airport and the disruption will be significant. Israel’s business daily Globes reported that the country’s main tourism industry body urged authorities late Tuesday to consider moving flights to Ovda, an airport about 40 miles north of Eilat in Israel’s far south.
Around 1,800 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since Israel launched a military offensive against Hamas two weeks ago in response to an escalation of rocket attacks in the preceding weeks. The volleys of rocket fire have compelled millions of Israelis to take to shelters at short notice, while the Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted many of the incoming projectiles.
Aviation safety has been a particularly pressing public concern since a Malaysia Airlines aircraft was shot down last Thursday over pro-Russian separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people onboard. The Boeing 777 was apparently brought down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile system, while flying at around 33,000 feet.
Prior to the disaster neither U.S. nor other international aviation authorities had put the airspace over eastern Ukraine out of bounds, although there were restrictions in place relating to the area over Crimea, which Russia annexed last March. After the downing of flight MH17 the FAA widened the area prohibited to U.S. carriers to cover all of eastern Ukraine.
The FAA said Tuesday it would “continue to monitor and evaluate the situation” regarding Ben Gurion Airport. “Updated instructions will be provided to U.S. airlines as soon as conditions permit, but no later than 24 hours from the time the [notice] went into force.”