AI to launch Delhi-Tel Aviv flight via Saudi airspace

Mar 08, 2018, 01:30
AI to launch Delhi-Tel Aviv flight via Saudi airspace

The Israeli flag carrier's CEO Gonen Usishkin said in a letter to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations body, it would be discriminatory for the Saudis to allow Air India to enter its airspace and not El Al.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow Air India to use its airspace in flights to and from Israel in what could indicate a warming of ties.

The permission for Air India to fly over Saudi Arabia will likely be seen as a major breakthrough, cutting hours off direct flights between India and Israel. Its Tel Aviv-Mumbai flight takes eight hours.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have no official diplomatic ties, like much of the Arab world. Air India denied Mr. Netanyahu's claim.

El Al slammed what it termed a "discriminatory" move by Saudi authorities, in a letter to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) this week. Anger at the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord has chipped away at their historic animosity, and it appears Israel picked a side in the swelling feud between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia over the former's influence in Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain.

Usishkin said giving Air India preference would also violate the Chicago Convention, under which countries may not impose restrictions on flying over their territory or discriminate against airlines based on nationality.

Flying over Saudi Arabia significantly shortens the route's flight time. Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, and the permission marks a potential diplomatic shift between the two countries.

Mr. Netanyahu discussed the launch of direct Air India flights to Israel with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while on a state visit to India in January.

- CNN's Oren Liebermann, Sugam Pokharel and Zahraa Alkhalisi contributed to this article.

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