Skip to content

How overflight rights open new markets for Israeli airlines

Sept. 10, 2022
6 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

It was just a subtle turn to the left, a few degrees east of the usual route. This was no navigational error but rather the aeronautical-geopolitical equivalent of dipping your toes in the water before fully going in.

A few minutes past midnight on Aug. 23, Arkia Flight IZ611 departed Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) bound for Seychelles International Airport (SEZ). The Airbus A321neo, packed with Israeli vacationers, briefly transited over Jordan before entering Saudi airspace.

The flight did not spend much time over Saudi Arabia. After skimming the country’s west coast, it soon veered toward the Red Sea to rejoin the usual path Israeli airliners take when heading to the Indian Ocean and beyond. The small Saudi detour shaved some 20 minutes off the usual flight time; however, the political resonance of this charter flight was much more difficult to quantify.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free biweekly Aviation newsletter.

The significance of Flight IZ611

Israeli airline ARKIA Airbus A321 aircraft taking off from the Israeli Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv to the city of Eilat in southern Israel. JACK GUEZ/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Flight IZ611's move into Saudi Arabia was monumental. It was the first time that Saudi authorities let an Israeli airliner overfly their territory in order to reach a country other than the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain.

Until very recently, several countries in the Middle East were totally closed to any air traffic to and from Israel. The 2020 Abraham Accords changed most of this, though, by normalizing relations among Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. This move was subsequently followed by a handful of other countries in the Arab world.

While these agreements cover way more than aviation, where diplomats go, airlines tend to follow. A tangible consequence of this new state of affairs has been the establishment of a number of air routes that barely a couple of years ago were firmly in the domain of political fiction.

Related: Saudi Arabia opens airspace to all airlines, including Israeli carriers

Take this coming winter season as an example. Passengers traveling between Dubai International Airport (DXB) and TLV have their pick of options, with El Al Israel Airlines, Emirates, Flydubai, Arkia and Israir Airlines all offering nonstop flights between the two cities. Meanwhile, Etihad Airways and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi do the same between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH).

There are no flights to and from Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi kingdom has facilitated all those flights, as well as Gulf Air’s route from TLV to Bahrain International Airport (BAH), by allowing them to overfly its territory.

Likewise, Morocco, a country where hundreds of thousands of Israelis have family roots, has also established diplomatic relations and air links with Israel. El Al, Israir, Arkia and Royal Air Maroc all offer flights from TLV to both Casablanca's Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) and Marrakesh Menara Airport (RAK).

Related: How to fly from the US to Morocco with points and miles

Sudan has opened its airspace to air traffic to and from Israel, too, enabling a potential new vector of growth for the Israeli air travel industry.

These Morocco and Sudan routes are not so much about improving access to African destinations — a quick check on Flightradar24, for example, showed that El Al continues to use its traditional routing over the Red Sea and Eritrea for its flights to Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB).

Instead, they offer the prospect of new regular nonstop flights between Israel and South America. A special El Al charter flight returning from Argentina already made use of this option in June 2020 shortly after the Sudanese authorities granted overflight rights, though nonstop South American routes have so far failed to materialize.

New routes that may be on the horizon

El Al Israel Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner takes off from Los Angeles International Airport. AARONP/BAUER-GRIFFIN/GC IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

One of the most momentous airspace openings, which was widely expected to take place this summer, may still have to wait. It seems that Omani authorities haven’t yet decided on whether to allow overflights by Israeli airlines. A simple look at a map shows why the Israeli air travel industry is eagerly awaiting Oman’s decision.

Strategically located between hostile Iran to the north and war-torn Yemen to the south, Oman provides the most convenient point for Israeli airlines to access the Indian Ocean and continue on to India and East Asia. Countries like India and Thailand have long been favorites among Israeli tourists, but reaching these countries from Israel currently requires taking flights that must travel long and circuitous routes.

Related: Thailand to extend visa stays and introduce 'Golden Visa' program

Without Saudi and Omani overflights, a flight between TLV and, for example, Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) would typically require flying southward over the Gulf of Aqaba, then over the Red Sea and around the Arabian Peninsula before crossing the Indian Ocean along a rather southerly route.

A routing through Oman would save El Al and other Israeli airlines about 2 1/2 hours of flight time and tons of fuel. Additionally, it would make it possible to deploy narrow-body aircraft on some routes, such as those to Indian destinations, providing an additional degree of operational flexibility to airline planners.

This expanded range of possibilities will also make it easier for Israeli airlines to open up new markets that have been in the cards for quite some time, such as Australia. Back in 2019, El Al even conducted a test with one of its Boeing 787-9 aircraft, which flew all the way to Melbourne Airport (MEL) from TLV and back. With Saudi and Omani overflight rights, flight times on the Australia route could potentially be cut to as little as 15 1/2 hours.

Related: The best ways to use points and miles to fly from the US to Australia

Only time will tell which other destinations may eventually make the list.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases