Israeli airlines said urging Saudis to allow overflights already this week
Israeli airlines have asked to use Saudi skies for their flights as early as this week, after Riyadh said it would allow them to fly over Saudi territory, according to a report Saturday night.
Channel 13 news has reported that El Al and Arkia have both asked to re-route flights scheduled for this week to destinations in the Far East, such as Bangkok in Thailand and Goa in India, which would shorten flight times by up to three hours.
The report added that airlines have yet to hear from Riyadh.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia announced it was opening its airspace to all civilian overflights, a move widely seen as part of US-brokered efforts to advance normalization steps between Jerusalem and Riyadh. The milestone occurred while US President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, hours before heading to Jeddah and meeting with Saudi leaders.
In a speech Friday night after meeting with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Biden called the Riyadh overflight decision “a big deal, not just symbolically but substantially.”
“This is the first tangible step on the path to what I hope will eventually be a broader normalization of relations” between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Biden added.
On Friday morning, Prime Minister Yair Lapid hailed the decision “to open Saudi airspace to Israeli airlines” as “the first formal step in normalization with Saudi Arabia”.
“I thank the Saudi leadership for opening Saudi airspace. This is just the first step,” Lapid added.
However, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Saturday that the decision had “nothing to do with diplomatic relations with Israel”.
“The issue of overflights is a decision we have made…in the interest [of] provide connectivity between countries around the world, and we hope this will make life easier for some travellers. It is in no way a precursor to any other step,” he said.
Flights to East Asia from Tel Aviv have until now had to bypass the Arabian Peninsula, a consequence of the kingdom’s non-recognition of Israel, adding between two and three hours to travel time.
Arkia CEO Oz Berlovitch predicted that the shortened flight paths “will reduce the price of flights to the East, for example to India and Thailand, by at least 10%”.
Travelers boarding a plane from Israel to Bangkok will see their flights shortened to eight hours and 25 minutes from about 11 hours, while flights to Mumbai will be shortened from about eight hours to five hours and 15 minutes.
The new flight paths pass through Oman, a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, nor does it currently allow Israeli planes to pass through its airspace. However, he is expected to follow suit as per Saudi Arabia’s decision.
Opening Saudi skies would also allow a 15.5-hour direct flight to Melbourne, Australia, as well as a six-hour flight to the Maldives, should airlines decide to operate such routes.