Number of airlines from US and Europe scrap flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport citing safety concerns.
Foreign airlines flying to Baghdad have cancelled flights landing at the city’s international airport after a FlyDubai passenger jet was shot at while approaching the Iraq capital.
An aviation official and a security official told Reuters news agency that two passengers were lightly injured when three or four bullets hit the body of the plane on Monday evening but they were unable to specify the source of the gunfire.
Flydubai, Emirates, Sharjah’s Air Arabia and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad were the first to suspend flights following the incident, in line with a directive from the United Arab Emirates’ civil aviation authority.
|Analysis by Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan|
Any attack on Baghdad international airport represents a big shift in the fight against ISIL. For air carriers, who have already rerouted flights, it is a big concern. Aviation experts have told me that after the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine, risk-taking, however small, is simply unacceptable.
Both Etihad and Emirates suspended operations into Baghdad following Tuesday’s shooting, and expect others to follow suit.
For the Iraqi government the concerns are manifold. Baghdad is not a place that Western tourists go. The traffic into Baghdad in local or military and diplomatic in nature. A few months ago, I spoke to a former senior US military officer who advises the Iraqi government. For him an attack on Baghdad airport was a “red line”: he would stop flying into the country if that happened.
The airport itself has one of the widest perimeters in the world, so the alleged sniper had to have been pretty close to be able to hit the aircraft. On one side there are farmlands, allegedly secure, and that’s where the bullets came from. With US military advisers based at the airport, the incident is also of concern to the US authorities.
Security has already been stepped up in the wake of the shooting. The mild damage to the aircraft is one thing but the damage to traveller confidence in Iraqi security is quite another. And traveller confidence, without question, has been damaged immensely.
“To comply with the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority ban on operation to and from Baghdad on security grounds, we have suspended all flights to the Iraqi city with immediate effect and until further notice,” Abu Dhabi-owned Etihad said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The safety of our guests and employees is always our first priority. We will continue to work closely with the authorities and monitor the security situation before recommencing scheduled services to Baghdad.”
Etihad said travellers would receive refunds for tickets that were already issued.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said representatives of the international and regional airlines were meeting on Tuesday to discuss the security situation at the airport.
“We were told that it was actually sniper fire that happened in an area just adjacent to the Baghdad airport.
“According to security and aviation sources a gunman who was beyond the wall of the airport – in an area that is controlled by Iraqi security forces – appears to have used a sniper rifle and fired three of four shot that actually hit the plane as it was coming in to land.”
But Bayan Jabar, Iraq’s transport minister, told a press conference that the shooting was accidental.
A spokesperson of FlyDubai said the damage to the aircraft fuselage was consistent with small arms fire, however, he denied that any passengers had required medical treatment and said an investigation was under way.
Another aviation official said Iraq had briefly suspended air traffic on Monday following the incident but that most flights had resumed on Tuesday morning.
Several airlines rerouted their flights over Iraqi airspace last year as a security precaution amid fears that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters have weapons capable of shooting down planes and despite Iraqi government’s insistence that the country’s skies are safe.