JERUSALEM, JAN. 3 -- Hard hit by mounting fears of a Persian Gulf war, Pan American Airways announced today that it has suspended flights to Israel and Saudi Arabia, while other international carriers said they were cutting back on the number of scheduled flights to the Jewish state.
Pan Am said it was forced to halt the flights for at least a week because of soaring war-risk insurance rates, which had raised the cash-strapped airline's premium costs 10-fold to $162,500 per flight to Riyadh and 20-fold to $65,000 per flight to Tel Aviv. A Pan Am spokeswoman said in New York that the new rates had made "it no longer economically feasible" to continue such flights and that the airline "is working with the U.S. State Department and the Department of Transportation" to try to find a way to restore service.
Meanwhile, both British Airways and KLM, the Dutch national airline, said they were reducing the number of flights to Israel from six to four a week because of scarce bookings. Swissair and Air France quickly followed suit, citing high insurance premiums. British Air had already changed its flight schedules so planes and crews would not have to remain overnight in Israel, which Iraq has threatened to attack in the event of a war in the gulf.
Israeli Transport Minister Moshe Katsav said he believed the Pan Am suspension was unjustified and instructed El Al, the Israeli national airline, to accommodate passengers booked on Pan Am. Israeli aviation officials said, however, that they expected other airlines to halt flights to Tel Aviv as the United Nations' Jan. 15 deadline for Iraqi troops to leave Kuwait neared.
In a related development here today, Jerusalem's Hebrew University announced that it was shortening the term and holding early exams for 520 foreign students so they could leave the country before the U.N. deadline, if they wished.
"I think the panic comes more from overseas than it does from here," said a university spokesman. "We moved exams up because parents have been pressuring their children to get out, as have foreign universities with students here."