FAA prohibits flights to Tel Aviv airport
WASHINGTON (WJLA/AP) - In a sign of increased caution about flying near combat zones, the FAA told U.S. airlines on Tuesday that all flights to Israel are prohibited for at least the next 24 hours after a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport.
The ban began 12:15 p.m. EST on Tuesday, the agency said in a statement.
"Due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza, all flight operations to/from Ben Gurion International Airport by U.S. operators are prohibited until further advised," the FAA said in its notice to airlines. The rocket strike landed about one mile from the airport, the agency said.
Israeli police confirmed that a rocket from Gaza, where the Israelis are fighting Hamas militants, landed in an area near the airport.
Police spokeswomen Luba Samri said Tuesday's rocket landing was the closest to the airport since fighting began on July 8. She said the rocket caused damage to a house and slightly wounded one Israeli.
Airlines and passengers are growing more anxious about safety since last week, when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Airlines have rerouted planes to avoid the area over eastern Ukraine where pro-Soviet separatists are battling the Ukrainian army.
Aviation and legal experts said Tuesday that airlines are now taking risk assessment into their own hands, both for the safety of passengers and to avoid claims of negligence.
Aviation consultant Robert Mann said airlines are becoming more proactive in the wake of the Flight 17 disaster.
"It's really forcing every carrier, every business jet operator to do their own due diligence, do their own risk assessment, given the geopolitical situation," Mann said.
Jonathan Reiter, a prominent New York aviation-accident attorney, said flying into an airport after a near-miss by a rocket could be used to show that an airline was negligent. That explains why the FAA is suspending service to Israel.
"I'm sure it is human concern as well," Reiter said, "but I think (the airlines) feel it is wise to err on the side of caution because it is their burden to prove they are doing everything possible to avoid injuries and deaths."
Israel's Transportation Ministry called on the FAA to reverse their decision and said it was trying to explain that the airport was "safe for landings and departures."
"Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize," it said in a statement.
The FAA said it will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation, and that updated instructions will be provided to U.S. airlines "as soon as conditions permit, but no later than 24 hours" from the time the directive went into force.