As the rocket assault on Israel continued last night, air traffic has again been impacted by the disruption. Flights overnight were forced to hold away from the airport until it was deemed safe to land. One passenger on an El Al flight from Brussels filmed the frightening scene from their window. Ben Gurion Airport has since halted all operations, and flights are being diverted to Ramon instead.
Following yesterday’s overnight attacks, which saw aircraft diverted and multiple flights canceled, Israel has again come under fire overnight. Rockets fired towards the city of Tel Aviv and the main civilian airport of Ben Gurion have again caused problems for incoming aircraft, with planes forced to hold away from the airport as hundreds of rockets rained down.
One such flight was El Al flight LY332. The service had taken off from Brussels as normal at 20:00 local time last night. The trip to Tel Aviv usually takes less than four hours to fly, but this time passengers were left onboard for over five hours.
On approach to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport, the Boeing 737-900, registered 4X-EHC, came in from the north. Initially tracking a steady approach towards TLV, at around 20 miles (32 km) out from the airport, the aircraft diverted to the east. A passenger filming from the window made it clear why this diversion was necessary.
מטורף: רקטות שנורו מעזה צולמו מטיסת אל על LY332 רגע לפני הנחיתה מבריסל בישראל. לאחר שעה של מעגלי המתנה באוויר המטוס נחת בשלום pic.twitter.com/xLdXkCzJqL
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) May 12, 2021
The aircraft entered a holding pattern above the mountain city of Nablus for more than 45 minutes. At that point, the decision was made to divert the flight. It landed safely in Ramon Airport near the southern city of Eilat half an hour later.
Data from FlightRadar24.com shows that the aircraft successfully repositioned to TLV airport at around 03:30 local time. No passengers were onboard this repositioning flight.
Ben Gurion closed for inbound flights
Israel is well defended. Its ‘Iron Dome’ is a sophisticated missile defense system that is successfully intercepting the majority of the incoming attacks. However, the danger posed to civilian aircraft cannot be overstated, and as such, the airport is now closed to inbound flights.
Under the new plan, any incoming flights to Israel will be diverted to the southern city of Eilat (ETM). Passengers will disembark there, and the planes will then reposition back to TLV without any passengers onboard. This will enable outbound flights to continue operating from the main airport.
The Airports Authority says that this is designed to minimize the number of passenger-filled planes on the ground at any one time. This is perceived to be the moment of the most risk to the airport and its passengers. Cargo aircraft and private planes are still being allowed to land at Ben Gurion for the time being.
Although it’s still possible to get a flight to Israel, albeit with some diversion in place, many airlines have already suspended flights for the coming days. The US big three carriers have canceled services for several days. UK flag carrier British Airways has announced a suspension of flights for today, with plans to review the situation going forward.
Israeli airline El Al has said it will continue to run flights as scheduled, but that it is allowing passengers to change any tickets booked before May 19th without a fee. It has also opened up its inflight WiFi for WhatsApp messaging free of charge, to allow passengers to stay in touch with family and friends.