What the Israel-Hamas conflict means for safety of region’s flights, travellers – National | Globalnews.ca


As the conflict between Israel and militant group Hamas rages into a second week, Canadians are being strongly urged to avoid travelling to the region amid heightened security concerns.

Air Canada and a slew of international carriers, including the biggest U.S. airlines, British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa, suspended flights to Israel last week.

This came on the heels of a co-ordinated deadly attack by Hamas in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel, which has retaliated with heavy bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip over the past week, is now preparing for an expected ground invasion of the Hamas-ruled territory.

Click to play video: 'Israel-Hamas conflict: U.S. ‘must be held accountable,’ Iran says'

Israel-Hamas conflict: U.S. ‘must be held accountable,’ Iran says

As tensions and uncertainty over the conflict mount, there is increased vigilance about flying in the region during the violence.

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John Gradek, faculty lecturer and co-ordinator with McGill University’s aviation management program, said that as in any conflict, airlines would be taking heed and trying to avoid the airspace over Israel as much as possible.

“We’re seeing a high degree of caution being exercised by carriers and governments to basically avoid any semblance of any overflight or operation into Israel,” he told Global News in an interview.

Because the Israeli airspace is “fairly small,” adjusting the flight path would have “minimal impact” on the overall route, Gradek added.

Click to play video: 'Netanyahu warns Iran, Hezbollah: “Don’t test us” in the north'

Netanyahu warns Iran, Hezbollah: “Don’t test us” in the north

Regulators in Israel, Europe and the United States have advised airlines to use “caution” when flying through Israeli airspace, Reuters reported.

Transport Canada did not respond to a request for comment by Global News inquiring about its advice to airlines by the time of publication.

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Aviation authorities can make recommendations about conflict zones, Gradek said, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the airlines to consult with the point of origin and destination about what action to take.

“Everybody understands the danger. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it and there’s very little, if anything, that you as an airline pilot can do to basically evade missiles being aimed and pinging your aircraft,” he said.

There have been past instances of commercial planes being struck by missiles.

In January 2020, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was hit minutes after taking off from Tehran, Iran, by two Iranian surface-to-air missiles as tensions ran high in Iran following the U.S. assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds force.

In July 2014, a Russian-made missile also shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over conflict-torn eastern Ukraine. Two Russian former intelligence officers and a Ukrainian separatist leader were found guilty of downing the plane and killing all 298 people on board in a Dutch court last year.

Click to play video: 'Air Canada repatriating Canadians on special flights from Athens, Greece'

Air Canada repatriating Canadians on special flights from Athens, Greece

Some airlines, like Israel’s El Al and Arkia, which are still flying in the country, have anti-missile systems built into their planes to help reduce the risk of an attack, Gradek said. Pilots on such aircraft have also been trained to use techniques to avoid missiles, he said.

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But “not all carriers have that equipment” and even the ones that do are limited in terms of the measures they can take, Gradek said.

“An airliner is not a fighter aircraft, so you have much less flexibility and you’ve got passengers on board the airplane, so there’s limited capability of an aircraft and a pilot to avoid a missile strike,” he explained.

Click to play video: 'Israel-Hamas conflict: Number of Canadians wanting to leave Gaza doubles'

Israel-Hamas conflict: Number of Canadians wanting to leave Gaza doubles

What travel advisories are in place due to the conflict?

As of Monday, roughly 1,150 Canadians have been evacuated from Israel and taken to Athens, Greece, the Canadian embassy in Israel said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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The government has also started evacuating Canadians from the West Bank to Jordan, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday.

Canadians are being urged to avoid non-essential travel to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip due to the “unpredictable security situation,” according to advisories from Global Affairs Canada.

As concerns rise over the conflict widening in the Middle East, Canada has also issued travel advisories for neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan in recent days.

Click to play video: 'Israel-Hamas conflict: 5 Canadians dead, 3 missing following terror attack, officials confirm'

Israel-Hamas conflict: 5 Canadians dead, 3 missing following terror attack, officials confirm

In a technical briefing on Sunday, Canadian officials warned that the situation in Lebanon, which shares its southern border with Israel’s north, “continues to be unstable.”

“Canadians who are thinking about travelling to Lebanon are strongly advised to avoid all non-essential travel. This is simply not the time to go there,” said Julie Sunday, the assistant deputy minister for Global Affairs responsible for consular, security and emergency management.

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Sunday also said those who are already in Lebanon should consider leaving the country while “commercial means are still available.”

For Jordan, Ottawa is advising Canadians to “exercise a high degree of caution” due to the threat of terrorism, civil unrest and demonstrations that took place last week in relation to the ongoing conflict.

In an update on Sunday, Global Affairs Canada said there are continued calls for additional demonstrations, particularly on Fridays, and that Jordanian authorities may employ enhanced measures to respond to these demonstrations.

— with files from The Canadian Press and Reuters 

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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