Saudi Arabia grants airspace approval for direct flights from Tel Aviv to New Delhi; Flights to begin March 22: El Al seeks same permission, sends letter to ICAO.
Air India on Wednesday confirmed it received permission from Saudi Arabia to begin direct flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.
The development is historic as Saudi Arabia does not officially recognize the State of Israel and has had a nearly 70-year-old ban on flights from Israel from entering its airspace.
Air India confirmed the reports, the airline to begin three direct flights a week towards the end of March. A spokesman for the airline reported Wednesday “Air India will introduce thrice-a-week flight to Tel Aviv from Delhi with effect from March 22.”
Flights from Tel Aviv to New Delhi will be shortened by 2-3 hours and India is to receive a grant from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.
Reports first surfaced of the historic agreement last month following a meeting between India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj with Saudi officials in Riyadh. Shortly following, El Al, Israel’s national airline, welcomed the development, the airline’s Vice President Michael Strassburger announcing to Israeli media “El Al and all Israelis welcome Saudi Arabian agreement to allow flights to and from India passing over its skies. This will significantly shorten flight times, leading to lower operating costs and ticket prices for passengers. We hope and believe that this agreement will also be valid for all Israeli airlines, not just foreign airlines.”
At the time, Air India and Saudi Arabia denied the reports.
Reports resurfaced again this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday praising the decision, stating to the press “Air India signed an agreement today to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia.” Air India again denied the permission, two days later confirming.
Strong bilateral ties between India and Israel, the recent historic visits by Prime Minister Netanyahu to India following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, as well as efforts from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, have all been cited as influencing the historic development. India and Israel signed numerous bilateral and trade agreements, including agreements in aviation and tourism during Netanyahu’s India tour last month.
El Al on Wednesday appealed to the United Nations over the Saudi ban on it’s flights from Tel Aviv to India following air India’s announcement, claiming discrimination. EL Al’s CEO, Gonen Ushkin, confirmed he sent an appeal to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Photo: Air India, Wikimedia Commons, 2018.