Air India To Fly Direct to Tel Aviv As Saudi Arabia Allows Flights Over Airspace
Air India announced that it will begin non-stop service from Tel Aviv to New Delhi on March 18. The flight time is expected to be five hours and will fly over Saudi Arabia. The route will be the first time that a flight path to or from Israel will pass over an Arab country. Saudi officials have confirmed they would permit the flights to cross their airspace.
The new route, which is set to begin service in the coming months, will offer three flights a week and break El Al’s current monopoly on service between Israel and India. It will also take substantially less than El Al, which currently lists flight time for its Tel Aviv-Mumbai route at eight hours due to a large detour the national carries has to take in order to avoid Arab air space.
The Saudi move has been presented as a gesture to the Indian government, not to Israel, since Jerusalem has no formal diplomatic ties with Riyadh. But the new route emerged as part of understandings reached by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi during meetings last summer in Israel and last month in India. The two prime ministers signed an aviation agreement that will facilitate changes in airfares and security arrangements and further coordination between Israel and India.
Nevertheless, the change symbolizes an important step in the direction of normalization between Israel and the Sunni kingdom, supporting already reported increasingly warm and cooperative relations. Last November, a Saudi newspaper ran a feature interview with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, and top-level Saudi officials are rumored to have visited Israel in recent months.
In addition, Netanyahu has said he hopes for an end to Israeli planes skirting the Saudi peninsula to reach the subcontinent. Speaking at an economic forum in Mumbai he said his goal would be for an “efficient and direct route” to be established between the countries.