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Updated: Tue, 22 Jul 2014 22:39:06 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Israel-Gaza conflict: Air Canada cancels Tel Aviv flight over safety concerns



Delta Air Lines on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 canceled all flights to Israel until further notice, citing reports that a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Delta Air Lines on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 canceled all flights to Israel until further notice, citing reports that a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Air Canada has cancelled its scheduled flight to Tel Aviv from Toronto Tuesday night, following the lead of other airlines concerned about rocket fire near Ben Gurion Airport.

Air Canada had a flight scheduled to leave for Tel Aviv from Toronto at 6:10 p.m. ET. The airline will continue to evaluate the situation and provide updates as needed, a spokeswoman said.

The return flight to Toronto from Tel Aviv for Wednesday, July 23, has also been cancelled, the carrier confirmed.

In response to a CBC News query, Transport Canada said the suspensions of flights to Israel are decisions taken by airlines themselves.

"For more information you should contact the carriers directly," senior communications adviser Ben Stanford said in an email to CBC News.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines also suspended flights to Israel indefinitely Tuesday after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near Tel Aviv's airport, wounding one Israeli.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration subsequently issued a statement ordering U.S. carriers not to fly into Tel Aviv airport for the next 24 hours, starting Tuesday afternoon "due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza."

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 members on board.

Air France, Dutch flag carrier KLM, and German flag carrier Lufthansa also said they were suspending their flights to Tel Aviv.

US Airways, which has one daily flight from Philadelphia, cancelled that flight Tuesday and the return trip from Tel Aviv. It said it was evaluating subsequent flights.

Iron Dome working at 100%: ambassador

The cancellations prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ask U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to help restore U.S. commercial flights to Israel, according to an Israeli official.

The Transportation Ministry called on the companies to reverse their decision, saying there is no reason to "hand terror a prize" by halting the flights.

Israel's ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization said the Iron Dome missile defence system is working at 100 per cent around Ben Gurion. 

In an interview with CBC News, Joel Lion said there will be a review of defence measures around the airport with American embassy and FAA officials tomorrow. He said Israel is inviting airline officials to go on-site to see all the security measures in place.

Lion, who is also Israel's consul-general in Montreal, said he hopes the officials will see there is no risk for planes flying in and out of Ben Gurion. He added that flight paths have also been changed to ensure planes don't travel over hot spots.

"People can travel to Israel," Lion said, but warned they should also follow security measures.

"If you're told to go to a shelter, go to a shelter. Don't be a hero."

Possible economic harm

Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel, and several heading toward the area of Ben-Gurion Airport have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defence system, but police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Tuesday's landing was the closest to the airport since fighting began on July 8. 

Nadine Baudot-Trajtenburg, deputy governor of the Bank of Israel, pointed out that Israeli airlines are still flying.

But, in an interview with CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange, she said any prolonged closing of the airport could result in economic harm to Israel.

“The closing off of the airport for 24 hours is a slightly more important impact. It will depend on how long it will last,” said Baudot-Trajtenburg.

“In this round of hostilities, for the first time in 20-odd years, we’re seeing rockets that can reach the economic centre of Israel, which is centred around Tel Aviv,” she added.

In the past, foreign investment and growth have not been affected by the outbreak of hostilities, but “we have to be careful,” she said.

24-hour ban

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.

The FAA said that the ban on flights is for 24 hours beginning at 12:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

The statement said the rocket strike landed about 1.6 kilometres from Ben Gurion International Airport on Tuesday morning.

The notice only applies to U.S. airlines, since the FAA has no authority over carriers from other countries.

The agency 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.

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