The US Federal Aviation Authority on Tuesday banned US flights from traveling to and from Ben Gurion Airport for 24 hours after a Hamas rocket landed in Yehud, near Ben Gurion Airport, earlier in the day.
“The FAA immediately notified US carriers when the agency learned of the rocket strike and informed them that the agency was finalizing a [Notice to Airmen]” prohibiting the flights.
American aviation companies Delta, United said they were suspending flights to Israel “indefinitely,” while the Israel Airports Authority confirmed that US Airways had suspended flights for the night.
Delta diverted flight 468 from JFK with 273 passengers and 17 crew, Paris-Charles de Gaulle “after reports of a rocket or associated debris near the airport in Tel Aviv,” and said that it was working to re-accommodate its customers.
While the FAA does not have jurisdiction over European or other international air carriers, the decision may lead to other cancellations.
“As soon as the FAA gives such an order to US carriers, in most cases it’s a domino effect, and most European carriers will be forced to suspend their flights,” said an industry source. “This is a huge coup for Hamas.”
Air France suspended all flights to and from Israel due to “security reasons linked to the evolution of the local situation,” Reuters quoted an airline spokesman as saying.
Lufthansa, Swiss Air, and KLM also suspended flights to Ben Gurion.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz called on American aviation companies to return to normal functioning, stressing that Ben-Gurion airport was safe from for take-offs and landings, and that there was no security concern for passenger planes.
“There is no reason for the American companies to stop their flight and give a prize to terror,” he said.
Tourism accounts for about 5% of Israel’s exports, and has already declined as a result of the rocket fire from Gaza.
On Monday, the state department issued a travel warning recommending “that US citizens consider the deferral of non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank,” but noted that “Ben Gurion Airport is currently open and commercial flights are operating normally, although delays and cancellations can occur.”
Though the Iron Dome missile defense system has managed to shoot down about 90% of rockets headed toward populated or strategic areas, the decision was likely fueled by the recent downing of a Malaysian plan in Ukraine, likely by pro-Russian rebels.
The rocket which landed in the courtyard of a home in Yehud on Tuesday, causing damage and leaving two people lightly injured, marked the first direct hit in the greater Tel Aviv area since the Gaza operation began more than two weeks ago.