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Airline industry weighs ‘heightened’ concerns amid Iran-Israel tensions

Click to play video: 'Air Canada re-cancels Toronto flights to Tel Aviv after Iran’s attacks on Israel'
Air Canada re-cancels Toronto flights to Tel Aviv after Iran’s attacks on Israel
WATCH: Air Canada re-cancels Toronto flights to Tel Aviv after Iran’s attacks on Israel – Apr 14, 2024

As tensions rise between Iran and Israel following Tehran’s attack over the weekend, several airlines have halted their flights amid security concerns.

Air Canada joined a slew of international airlines on Saturday that cancelled their flights to Israel as the Israeli airspace was temporarily closed following a missile and drone attack by Iran.

“Due to the recent developments in the Middle East, operations to and from Tel Aviv are currently paused,” Air Canada told Global News in an emailed statement Monday.

Canada’s flagship carrier had just last week resumed flights to Tel Aviv after a six-month pause due to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Air Canada said in addition to cancelling the April 13 flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv, it was also scrapping the ones on Monday and Tuesday as well as the corresponding return flights.

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“The next flight from Toronto is now scheduled on Thursday, April 18,” Air Canada said.

“We are very closely monitoring the situation and will adjust accordingly.”

Even before the Iranian attack, the Canadian government increased on Friday evening its risk level for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip to “avoid all travel.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in a Friday post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “Canadians should consider leaving by commercial means.”

The weekend attack, involving more than 300 missiles and drones, caused only modest damage in Israel, but has raised concerns about a wider conflict in the Middle East.

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The Iranian attack was in retaliation to a suspected Israeli airstrike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria on April 1 that killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers including two senior commanders.

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Amid the political tensions, the airline industry is not taking any “undue chances” as it tries to keep travellers and crew safe, said one aviation expert.

“There is a lot of heightened tension in that area and the airlines do take as much caution as they can into their operating plans,” said John Gradek, faculty lecturer and coordinator with McGill University’s aviation management program.

Click to play video: 'Israel weighs how to react to Iran’s drone, missile attacks'
Israel weighs how to react to Iran’s drone, missile attacks

Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq were among the Arab nations that closed their airspaces late on Saturday before reopening them Sunday.

At least a dozen airlines cancelled or rerouted flights over the weekend, Reuters reported.

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On Monday, Europe’s aviation regulator also reaffirmed its advice to airlines to use caution in Israeli and Iranian airspace.

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

“There is a very heightened sense of awareness of what the impact of a geopolitical conflict such as this is taking place and people are, in fact, being warned to take extra caution and in some cases, avoid travel,” Gradek said.

Click to play video: 'What might Iran do next after attacking Israel?'
What might Iran do next after attacking Israel?

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.

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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: 'Canada ‘unequivocally condemns’ Iran’s attacks on Israel, Trudeau says'
Canada ‘unequivocally condemns’ Iran’s attacks on Israel, Trudeau says

Gradek said commercial pilots are not trained to evade missiles and aerial vehicles, such as drones, so they will try to keep a safe distance as much as possible.

This could mean either avoiding the airspace and rerouting planes, which could make flights longer, he said.

“There are alternative routings to get you from anywhere in the Western world to go around the Middle East and fly to your destination,” Gradek said.

“It’ll just take about an hour, an hour and a half longer,” he said, adding that airlines will plan their fuel and scheduling accordingly.

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Gradek said travellers should feel comfortable that airlines understand the risks associated with flying close to a conflict area and they will take extreme precautions.

“It’s not an unseen event. It’s something that is in the playbook that they know that if there is that closure, they act accordingly and that plans are put in place pretty close to operations. “

— with files from Reuters

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