In a historic moment for various global stakeholders, Air India’s flight AI-193 became the first commercial aircraft in 70 years to fly to Israel by using Saudi Arabia’s airspace. This flight thus signified the end of the overflight ban imposed by Saudi Arabia for flights bound to Israel, imposed owing to the Islamic nation not recognising the latter.
The only other aircraft to have flown from Saudi Arabia to Israel was Air Force One which ferried US President Donald Trump and George Bush.
The talks regarding Saudi Arabia allowing direct flight access to Air India over its airspace for a New Delhi – Tel Aviv were reported in February. As per the report, this breakthrough was achieved following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India in January.
Before Saudi Arabia had granted access to its airspace for Israel bound flights, the flights between Mumbai and Tel Aviv took about eight hours and flew over the Red Sea.
Air India’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, as a result, took about 7 hrs and 30 minutes to complete the journey from New Delhi to Tel Aviv. As per flight tracker website “Flightradar24”, the aircraft entered Saudi airspace at about 10:14 PM India time on Thursday:
??✈?? Air India’s inaugural Delhi-Tel Aviv flight has now entered Saudi Arabian airspace. #AI139 is the first commercial flight in 7 decades to fly over Saudi Arabia en route to Israel.⁰⁰
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) March 22, 2018
The flight spent about three hours inside the Saudi airspace and flew at an altitude of about 40,000 feet. After exiting the airspace it entered Jordan and the West Bank. The flight successfully landed in Tel Aviv at about 1:50 AM IST on Friday.
To mark the occasion, Israel’s culture minister Yariv Levin was present at the Ben Gurion International Airport to greet the flight’s passengers. Israel’s tourism minister Yariv Levin in a radio interview said that “This is a really historic day that follows two years of very, very intensive work”. He was also quoted as saying that India by introducing the flight has played an important bridge between India – Israel and also between Israel and other nations.
He claimed that the new route would cut flight time by two hours and also result in reduced fare. He also suggested being in negotiation with Singapore Airlines and a Filipino Airline to get them a similar air route.
This development though has upset Israeli carrier El Al, which presently flies between Mumbai and Tel Aviv four times a week. It has claimed that the new route has given an unfair advantage to Air India as the Israeli carrier continues to be excluded from the Saudi airspace. If the airline extends its operations to New Delhi, it would require two additional hours and a lot more fuel.
To this Minister Levin has commented that the permission would eventually be extended to El AI as well.