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Airlines Cancel Service To Israel Amid Heightened Aviation Safety Concerns


You may count flights into Israel as a casualty of the war in Ukraine. The downing of a jetliner over Ukraine has focused extra attention on air safety.


Hamas rockets are flying through the air space over Israel, and when a rocket landed near Israel's Ben Gurion International, American planes were told to stop landing there. The FAA imposed a 24-hour ban on flights.

INSKEEP: Airlines had already been canceling flights on their own, and European and Canadian companies quickly followed the Americans. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports on spreading anxiety about aviation safety in war zones.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: The airlines are getting much better at canceling flights in a crisis before hundreds of passengers show up at an airport to be stranded. So at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, most passengers bound for Israel weren't hopelessly hanging around. But there were passengers from Israel who just arrived, like 16-year-old American Tova Davad, who now lives in Israel but who just arrived for her summer visit with her grandparents.

TOVA DAVAD: It's, like, pretty scary, but I know that the Israeli government is doing everything they can to protect us.

GOODWYN: Davad boarded her El Al plane in Tel Aviv to fly to JFK, but then the sirens went off.

DAVAD: Well, we had an alarm right before we took off. So we had to all run off the flight and get into the airport. Then we had to all go on again, so it was, like, pretty - I was a little nervous to take off, but then once we were in the air, I felt fine.

GOODWYN: The destruction of the Malaysian passenger jet last week, apparently shot out of the sky by a missile, has the major carriers deeply concerned now about flying over or near war zones. Once Delta got word on Tuesday that a Hamas rocket had landed a mile from Tel Aviv airport, it diverted its flight destined for Ben Gurion. The 747 made a big left turn and landed in Paris.

DAVE NEWMYER: Delta diverted an airplane with 270 people from landing at Ben Gurion.

GOODWYN: Dave NewMyer is the emeritus department chair for aviation management at Southern Illinois University.

NEWMYER: It's a big deal for an airline to do that, first of all, because the immediate cost of diverting an airplane - it'll would be in the $100,000 range or more just for that one flight, depending on how long it goes on.

GOODWYN: While the ground assault in Gaza by the Israeli military is dealing a devastating blow to the Palestinian economy there, NewMyer says a prolonged embargo of Ben Gurion Airport by American and European carriers would be painful for Israel.

NEWMYER: That airport generates 14 million passengers a year, which is pretty large - very large - for a country of only 8 million people. And if the FAA continues its shutdown - European carriers go along with that shut down, then impact on Israel going to be huge economically.

GOODWYN: The rocket attacks on Israel have a reputation for being inaccurate. Still, the decision to halt service by major airlines, followed by the FAA ban, is likely to inspire Hamas to redouble its efforts to fire away at Ben Gurion International. They don't have to hit the airport to get their desired result - just come close.

NEWMYER: If the rocket attacks continue - and, of course, Hamas is going to be encouraged by this - the answers is, if they keep falling within a mile or two of Ben Gurion, yes. Nobody wants to see U.S. citizens shot out of the sky by a rocket.

GOODWYN: While the FAA ban is for 24 hours, American carriers have put no timeline on how long it will be before they resume flights to Tel Aviv. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.