More than a week since militant group Hamas launched co-ordinated attacks on Israel, tension continues to escalate as Israel prepares for an expected offensive in Gaza, where air strikes continue.
Palestinians were warned to evacuate northern Gaza on Friday in preparation for a ground offensive, since which time thousands have been gathering in the south at the Rafah land border crossing with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, hoping to leave the territory for safety. It remains closed and there is currently no deal to open the crossing.
The Sinai Peninsula sits between the Mediterranean and Red Seas and is home to many of Egypt’s most popular tourist destinations, including Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, Ras Mohammed National Park, Mount Sinai and St Catherine’s Monastery.
The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice for Egypt, warning against all travel to the Governorate of North Sinai, which runs as far south as most of the border with Israel and Gaza, stopping just north of the Red Sea town of Taba.
It also warns against all but essential travel to the northern part of the Governorate of South Sinai, beyond the St Catherine-Nuweibaa road, except for the coastal areas along the west and east of the peninsula, including Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab.
On the Mediterranean coast, an Egyptian police officer reportedly killed two Israeli tourists and an Egyptian tour guide in Alexandria on 8 October. However the Foreign Office does not currently advise against travelling to the city, nor does it advise against travel to Jordan, which shares a 300-mile land border with Israel and the West Bank.
Meanwhile, security analysts have warned that airspace in the region is becoming increasingly hazardous as violence escalates, with particular concern about the use of missiles. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was hit by a by a Russian-made Buk missile over Donestk in Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in 2014, killing all 293 people on board.
Andrew Nicholson, CEO of aviation risk management firm Osprey Flight Solutions told i that the primary risks to commercial flights in and around Israel and Gaza are misidentification and GPS disruption, but added that because the current conflict is localised, the risk to commercial passenger flights outside Israel and Gaza’s airspace has not been heightened. He says the situation is “really about exercising caution at the moment.”
Airlines including Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air have temporarily suspended flights between the UK and Israel over safety concerns. However, flights from the UK to neighbouring and nearby countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus and Turkey continue to operate as scheduled.
Easa, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency says that “due to the unstable situation”, it will continue to closely monitor events, with a view to assessing whether there is an increased risk for EU aircraft operators in the region.
However, it added that Israel “has issued and is maintaining Notams [notices to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards on on a flight route] regarding its airspace and its main airports”, which demonstrates that it is “actively managing the risk to civil aviation.”
Easa concludes that “at present, there are no indications that these mitigation measures are not efficient or inadequate” and that “for the time being” the risks are being “effectively managed by the Israeli State authorities.”
It does, however, warn that airlines should have a robust risk assessment and contingency plans in place should Israeli State authorities issue short-notice instructions.
Andrew Nicholson cautions that if the conflict expands into Lebanon or Syria, or should Hezbollah engage more significantly in the conflict, that could precipitate change to the advice from civil aviation authorities.
FlightRadar24, which displays live air traffic across the globe, shows aircraft largely avoiding Israel and the Palestinian Territories, using airspace over Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey on busy routes between Gulf hubs, Europe and Asia. A Royal Jordanian flight from Amman to Heathrow on Tuesday flew north through Jordan before turning west into Turkey and Europe.
British Airways, the CAA, Department for Transport and the International Air Transport Association (Iata) have been contacted for comment.