16 January 2019 - 11 Shevat 5779 - י"א שבט ה' אלפים תשע"ט
Historic Air India flight to Ben Gurion Airport causes controversy E-mail

As reported in the March 2018 issue of Jewish Times Asia, Air India announced at that time that it was in the process of beginning to operate direct flights from New Delhi to Israel via a route passing over Saudi Arabian airspace. Many civil aviation sources doubted whether the Indian airline would manage to schedule its first flight so quickly and easily.

To further complicate the situation, Israel’s national carrier, EL AL airlines, had complained that Air India had an unfair advantage, as the flight path by Air India significantly reduced the flying time over Saudi Arabian airspace, where EL AL was prohibited to fly due to security concerns. The airline is also now pursuing a court action. EL AL Airlines announced on 28 March that it was filing a petition with Israel’s High Court of Justice to restrict any new flights to Israel via Saudi airspace until it too is permitted use the shorter route.

With the inauguration of the Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel. Air India flight 139 landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on 22 March after a flight of over 7.5 hours, and received a water cannon salute upon its arrival. The flight marked a diplomatic shift for Riyadh that Israel said was fuelled by shared concern over Iranian influence in the region. Saudi Arabia is warming up to closer ties with Israel, even though there is no official diplomatic channel.

“This is a really historic day that follows two years of very, very intensive work,” Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said in a radio interview, adding that using Saudi airspace would cut travel time to India by around two hours and would reduce ticket prices.

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