WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration banned U.S. airlines Tuesday from flying to and from Israel for at least 24 hours amid safety concerns sparked by the ongoing crisis in Gaza.
The FAA said its prohibition applied only to U.S. air carriers, and that “updated instructions” would be issued “as soon as conditions permit.”
Delta, US Airways and United Airlines had earlier halted flights to and from Tel Aviv’s main Ben Gurion International Airport, amid reports of a rocket strike nearby.
“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.
In a press statement, the FAA said it immediately notified U.S. carriers when it learned of the rocket strike, informing them that a NOTAM was in the works.
Prior to the NOTAM being issued, however, Delta announced it had diverted a Tel Aviv-bound flight to Paris after “reports of a rocket or associated debris” near the airport.
“Delta, in coordination with the US Federal Aviation Administration, is doing so to ensure the safety and security of our customers and employees,” it said in a statement.
US Airways meanwhile told AFP in a Twitter exchange it had canceled its flights Tuesday between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv “in response to security concerns” at Ben Gurion airport.
And United said: “We’re suspending operations to/from Tel Aviv until further notice. We’ll continue to evaluate the situation.”
It was more discreet on its website, where it said its two flights Tuesday to Tel Aviv from Newark airport outside New York had been “canceled due to aircraft availability.”
Fears of a rocket hitting a passenger airliner have surged worldwide after last week’s downing of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over 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.
Delta said its diverted flight Tuesday was a Boeing 747 with 273 passengers as well as 17 crew on board, and that it was “working to reaccommodate these customers.”