The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) today noon, informing U.S. airlines that they are prohibited from flying to or from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport for a period of up to 24 hours. The notice was issued in response to a rocket strike which landed near Yehud, on the morning of July 22, 2014. The notice is a blow to the ‘sense of security’ Israel has maintained sofar, primarily with by the stunning effectiveness of the Iron Dome counter-rocket defensive system that prevented hits of over 400 rockets that would have struck populated areas without the system. On 23 July the FAA lifted its restrictions saying the cancellation is effective at approximately 11:45 p.m. EDT.
Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation. “The FAA’s primary mission and interest are the protection of people traveling on U.S. airlines.” the FAA announced. The agency will continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions, as necessary.
Since the beginning of the hostilities 15 days ago Hamas claimed attacks on the Ben Gurion Airport, however, none came close to the intended target, given the thick defensive screen provided by the Iron Dome C-RAM units protecting the Tel Aviv metropolitan, and the nearby airport. The rocket that struck Yehud on Tuesday, few miles from Ben-Gurion International Airport, landed between two houses and caused extensive damage to them, according to the police. Israel’s Transportation Ministry called on the airlines to reverse their decision and said it was trying to explain that the airport was “safe for landings and departures.”
The FAA immediately notified U.S. carriers when the agency learned of the rocket strike and informed them that the agency was finalizing a NOTAM. The FAA said it will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation. Updated instructions will be provided to U.S. airlines as soon as conditions permit, but no later than 24 hours from the time the NOTAM went into force. A day later, after lifting its previous restriction, the FAA said it had worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.
The NOTAM effected all three United States carriers with service to Israel – Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways. Israel’s national airline El-Al continues its scheduled service from the airport. A Delta Boeing 747 from New York was flying over the Mediterranean headed for Tel Aviv when it turned around and flew to Paris instead. Flight 468 had 273 passengers and 17 crew on board. US Airways and United flights scheduled to take off later in the day cancelled their flights.
The announcement comes as airlines around the world are becoming more sensitive about the risks of flying over conflict areas, following the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner over eastern Ukraine last week. Although the NOTAM applies only to U.S. operators, and has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport, several European airlines have halted their flights, including the German airline Lufthansa. French Air France and Dutch KLM. At that time, British Airways scheduled flights are not effected but the company said it is closely monitoring the situation.