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Israel flight ban a sign of airlines’ growing sensitivity to risks

NEW YORK — The Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to instruct American air carriers on Tuesday not to fly to Israel for 24 hours was another sign that airlines around the globe are becoming much more sensitive about the risks of flying over conflict areas, after the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner over eastern Ukraine last week.

All three US carriers with service to Israel — Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and US Airways — said they had temporarily suspended their flights after a rocket fell a mile from the airport outside Tel Aviv. The move highlighted the impact the conflict in the Gaza Strip is having on the Israeli economy at the height of the summer tourism season.

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While not issuing a ban on flights, the European Aviation Safety Agency said Tuesday that it ‘‘strongly recommends’’ that airlines refrain from operating flights to and from Tel Aviv.

The recommendation by Europe’s main aviation safety body came after the FAA announced its order. The European agency didn’t give a timeframe, but it said it would ‘‘monitor the situation and advise on any update as the situation develops.’’

Germany’s Lufthansa, Air France, Air Canada, Alitalia, Dutch KLM, Britain’s easyJet, Turkish Airlines, and Greece’s Aegean Airlines were among the carriers canceling flights to Tel Aviv over safety concerns, the Associated Press reported. British Airways said it was operating flights but monitoring the situation closely.

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Delta suspended its service between Kennedy International Airport and Tel Aviv “until further notice” and did not indicate when it might resume flights.

US Airways said it canceled Tuesday’s flight from Philadelphia and was in contact with federal authorities. United canceled its two daily flights from Newark Liberty International Airport on Tuesday.

Delta had a flight in the air on its way to Israel when the decision was made. Flight 468, a Boeing 747 with 273 passengers and 17 crew members aboard, was diverted to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris after the rocket fell in Yehud, a Tel Aviv suburb just north of the airport.

According to Flight
radar24.com, the Delta plane was flying over Greece, about two hours from its destination, when it turned around and diverted to Paris.

The State Department warned American travelers on Monday to put off going to Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza because of the increasing danger from combat and from rocket fire.

An Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Israel had had no advance notification by the airlines of their intention to cancel flights. The official insisted that it was safe to fly to Israel.

“If they wanted to hand the terrorists a prize, they couldn’t have chosen a better way,” the official said, adding, “If it was safe so far, why would it not be safe now? Nothing has changed. The airport has been there since Day 1.”

The rocket that struck Yehud on Tuesday, less than 1 mile from Ben-Gurion International Airport, landed between two houses and caused extensive damage to them, according to the police.

But the Israeli official noted that most of the rockets fired at the Tel Aviv area by militants had been successfully intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile defense system.

He said he hoped flights would resume after 24 hours.

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