U.S. airlines were banned from flying into Tel Aviv after a rocket landed within a mile of the airport serving Israel’s second-largest city Tuesday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The FAA imposed the 24-hour ban on U.S. flagged carriers, although Israel’s El Al continued flights from the airport Tuesday evening.
“The FAA immediately notified U.S. carriers when the agency learned of the rocket strike and informed them that the agency was finalizing [an official Notice to Airmen],” the FAA said. “The FAA will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation.”
Airlines began canceling service to and from Israel on Tuesday after Delta Air Lines diverted a flight bound for Tel Aviv and suspended service to Israel’s second-largest city after reports of a rocket strike near the airport.
Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv remained in operation, with several flights approaching the airport late Tuesday, including one by El Al, followed by a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight. It was not clear whether the Jordanian flight planned to land in Tel Aviv or Amman, Jordan.
In Israel, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called on airlines to reverse their decision to cancel flights.
“Ben Gurion Airport is safe, and there is no need to be worried about the security of airplanes and passengers,” Katz said. “There is no reason why airlines should stop their flights, handing a prize to terrorists.”
Several other international carriers also canceled Tel Aviv flights, including Air France, Brussels Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa and Swiss Air. A Turkish Airlines flight on its way to Israel apparently turned around midair and returned to Istanbul.
The FAA action underscored heightened concerns about the safety of commercial jetliners after a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down last week by an apparent missile over eastern Ukraine.
Delta was the first U.S. airline to cancel, suspending its service between New York and Tel Aviv after one of its flights between the two cities was diverted. The airline said it diverted Flight 468, a Boeing 747 bound from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport with 273 passengers and 17 crew on board, to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
In a statement, Delta said it made the decision after hearing “reports of a rocket or associated debris” near the Tel Aviv airport. The airline said it was working with passengers to help them reach their final destination.
US Airways said Tuesday it had canceled two flights between Tel Aviv and Philadelphia in response to these security concerns.
United Airlines suspended all operations to and from Tel Aviv “until further notice,” the airline said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Tel Aviv is about 53 miles north of the Gaza Strip, where Israeli troops have moved in to root out Hamas militants who have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel in recent weeks.
The State Department issued a warning Monday advising U.S. citizens to delay “non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank,” owing to the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. This travel warning, replacing one issued earlier in the year, noted that long-range rockets from Gaza have reached Tel Aviv.
The cancellations and FAA action come after a Malaysian passenger jet was shot down last Thursday in eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people. Authorities believe the flight was shot down by a missile battery located in an area held by pro-Russian separatists, and recorded conversations indicate that rebel leaders believed they were shooting down a military transport jet rather than a commercial airliner.
Although there was no immediate description of the rocket that landed near the Tel Aviv airport, the hundreds of rockets that Hamas militants have fired into Israel in recent weeks in no way resemble the missile that took down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The Hamas weapons are surface-to-surface rockets that lack sophisticated guidance systems and often fall harmlessly in remote, sparsely populated sections of Israel.
The Malaysian airliner was believed to have been struck by a Russian-made Buk SA-11 surface-to-air missile. The plane was flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet when the missile struck.