Despite the war, many international airlines continue to fly to Tel Aviv Airport. This is important for Israel. But how dangerous it is is controversial.
On the night from Sunday to Monday, the airport itself was also declared a target: The Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced that they would attack Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport with rockets. Israel initially did not comment.
The European aviation agency Easa meanwhile issued a so-called Conflict Zone Information Bulletin CZIB on Israeli airspace, which is valid until October 31st. She mentions not only the Hamas attacks on Israel, but also Hezbollah’s rocket fire from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on Sunday.
Ops Group sees high risk of being shot down
“Airline operators are advised to ensure that a solid risk assessment and a high level of contingency planning are in place for their flight operations and to be prepared for short-term instructions from the Israeli authorities,” writes Easa.
But she also underlines her trust in the Israeli aviation authority CAA. It is assumed that “the risks to civil aviation are currently being managed effectively by the Israeli authorities,” writes the European authority in the CZIB.
The airspace association Ops Group, in which members of cockpit crews and air traffic control are involved, takes a more critical view. “Israel is now an active war zone and we have raised the safe airspace warning to Level 1 – Do Not Fly,” she wrote on Monday morning.
“Therefore, all lessons learned over the last nine years since MH17 must be applied in relation to civilian operations in conflict areas. The risk of a passenger aircraft becoming a victim of this war is high.”
No restrictions from Easa and FAA
The group cites the threat of missiles and anti-aircraft weapons as the highest risk, coupled with other risks such as GPS spoofing, fewer alternative options in an emergency and an extremely difficult risk assessment for the airlines. “Despite the increased risk, no state has issued actual restrictions on operations to Israel, except the Russian aviation authority (daytime flights only, no operations before 9:00 a.m.).” That neither Easa nor the FAA from the USA have issued restrictions worrisome, according to Ops.
However, smaller airlines in particular with less capacity for risk assessment are dependent on the authorities. The Ops Group recommends avoiding all Israeli destinations, especially Tel Aviv, as well as flying over the Tel Aviv Flight Information Area. The selection of routes to destinations in Jordan should also be carefully considered, the group said.
Lufthansa Group is still weighing up the decision
According to information published by the Israeli Ministry of Transport on Monday morning, more than half of the almost 70 airlines that otherwise fly to Tel Aviv Airport are currently still flying there. Above all, these are the domestic El Al, Arkia and Israir, but also foreign airlines. For example, on Monday morning there were landings by Air Serbia from Belgrade, Tus Airways from Larnaca, Bulgaria Air from Sofia, Pegasus from Trabzon, Smartwings from Prague and Uzbekistan Airways from Tashkent. A Tus Airways flight from Düsseldorf to Tel Aviv is also planned for the afternoon.
On Monday morning, the airlines canceled flights to Tel Aviv from Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, KLM, Air France, Aegean, Virgin Atlantic and Hainan Airlines, for example. The Lufthansa Group airlines have suspended their Tel Aviv flights until Monday. A Lufthansa spokesman explained in the morning how things will proceed from Tuesday onwards. A decision will be made on Monday.
Closing the airport would be a success for Hamas
But how is it even possible for air traffic to take place in a city that is being bombarded with rockets? The Israeli military IDF commented on this in detail in 2015 after its Operation Protective Edge against Hamas the previous year.
“Hamas stated that disrupting traffic at Ben Gurion International Airport was one of its main objectives during Operation Protective Edge,” the IDF said. “The terrorist organization fired dozens of rockets at Ben Gurion and sent daily emails to international airlines threatening an attack on the airport.”
Closing Ben Gurion would have been a major success for Hamas, whose goal was to cut Israel off from the world by attacking the airport.
Iron Dome and other measures
The IDF said at the time that safe air traffic was possible through advanced air surveillance, the Iron Dome missile defense system to protect the airport and aircraft on the ground, and by defining special flight routes. Coordinating the whole thing so that there are no gaps in the protection system is a big challenge.