Saudi Arabia Is Allowing an Israel-Bound Flight to Use Its Airspace
In a shocking decision by Saudi Arabia, the country has granted one Israel-bound flight the approval to use Saudi airspace. Air India is set to launch a nonstop route between Delhi (DEL) and Tel Aviv (TLV) in March, and Saudi has granted the airline permission to use its airspace for the operations. The new permission for Air India will shave about 2.5 hours the regular flight time to operate that route.
As reported by Haaretz, El Al is currently the only other airline to operate a nonstop route between Israel and India — TLV to Mumbai (BOM). Because the Saudi government forbids flights that depart from or land in Israel from operating in its airspace, the El Al aircraft is required to cross the Red Sea and cut around Yemen.
Aside from US Presidents flying on Air Force One to or from Israel, no other Israeli-bound or originating flight has been permitted to use Saudi airspace. Private jets flying to or from Israel have often added a stop in Amman to avoid the airspace restriction. So, this is a historic first for Israel, Saudi Arabia and Air India. The major loser with this decision seems to be El Al, which is still required to operate around Saudi airspace. Only time will tell if this decision is a sign of a true warming of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. If that turns out to be the case, Saudi Arabia could eventually open its airspace to El Al flights as well.
It's worth noting, however, that while Saudi Arabia seems to be loosening restrictions on Israeli flights, it still has its Qatar blockade in place. Qatar Airways-operated flights are still not permitted to use the airspace of several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia.