Saudis deny allowing India to use its airspace for Israel route
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Saudi Arabia denied that it granted permission to Air India to use the kingdom’s airspace for flights into Israel, after reports surfaced stating the opposite.
On February 7, 2018, Air India announced plans to begin direct flights to Israel passing through Saudi airspace and said it was awaiting clearance from India’s regulatory body to fly over the kingdom, Reuters reported.
A spokesperson for Air India and Israel’s Airports Authority said the flag carrier had requested slots for three weekly flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. According to the Airports Authority, the service would begin in early March, 2018.
On the same day, Israeli daily Haaretz wrote that Saudi Arabia has granted the airline approval to operate direct flights between India and Israel using the kingdom’s airspace.
But a spokesperson for the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) in Saudi Arabia denied granting permission to Indian planes to operate through Saudi territory, Al Arabiya television reported.
El AL Israel Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, offers direct weekly flights between Tel Aviv and Mumbai. However, these trips take almost eight hours as the airline has to fly over the Red Sea, past Yemen and around the Arabian Peninsula in order to circumvent Saudi airspace as well as other Arab and Muslim nations such as the UAE, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, who also do not allow airlines to use their airspace for flights to Israel.
If Air India were given flyover rights by Saudi authorities, the new route from New Delhi to Tel Aviv would shorten the flight time by more than two hours and would save fuel costs.
The new route would mean flying over Ahmedabad, in India, Muscat, in Oman, and Saudi Arabia to reach Tel Aviv directly. Israel’s Tourism Ministry already announced an one-time grant of €750,000 to Air India for flying the route, News 18 reports.
The issue is political as Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel. There has been a 70-year-long ban that prohibits any airline that flies to Israel to use Saudi airspace. Permission to do that for commercial flights to Israel would signify thawing relations between Israel and the kingdom.
India and Israel, on the other hand, have developed closer ties over the years. In 2017, Narendra Modi became the first-ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. His counterpart, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited India in January, 2018, the first such trip in 15 years, Reuters reports.
Although, if finally confirmed, the newly projected route would be historic, none of the parties have yet confirmed whether India’s national carrier would been given permission to use Saudi airspace.
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