Saudi Arabia recently announced that it would open its airspace to all airlines that meet its requirements for overflights, in line with international conventions which discourage discrimination between civil aircraft. The decision benefits Israeli airlines the most, reducing their fight time and fuel consumption on their services to Asia.
Last week, ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced its intention to grant access to its airspace to all airlines, including those from Israel. This was seen as a significant decision considering the two countries have no diplomatic relations.
And while experts are busy analyzing its political impact, Israeli airlines are welcoming the decision that would save fuel costs and reduce flight times. El Al Israel Airlines and Arkia wasted no time in applying for permission to fly over Saudi Arabia.
However, Israeli Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli said implementation will take some time. When she was asked how long it might take before Israeli carriers could fly over Saudi Arabia, Michaeli replied,
“Your guess is as good as mine. I hope it’s not months, but weeks.”
Airlines are happy
Obtaining rights to use Saudi airspace has significant financial benefits for airlines in Israel. The new routes are expected to cut flight time by about 2.5 hours to countries such as India and Thailand.
So far, Israeli carriers can overfly Saudi territory for flights to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain only. Anywhere beyond, and their planes have to take a circuitous route bypassing Saudi airspace by flying south over the Red Sea around Yemen.
Other foreign airlines flying to Israel were also not allowed to use Saudi airspace all this while. The only exception to this rule has been Air India, for which Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel when the carrier inaugurated the route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv in 2018.
Better aircraft utilization
El Al used to fly to Mumbai from Tel Aviv – a route that was discontinued in March 2020, following the global pandemic. Now, with the recent announcement, the service could return with some changes.
El Al used to deploy the larger Boeing 787 aircraft to Mumbai due to a longer route. However, using Saudi airspace would allow it to deploy smaller airplanes to Mumbai, freeing the larger jets to be used for other destinations such as Australia and Japan, which are currently in discussion.
Reuters reports that Arkia is also planning to start flights to Goa, a popular beach destination in India, and considering flying to Thailand and Sri Lanka using the Airbus A321LR aircraft.
Looks like the Asia-Israel network is about to get much busier in the coming months.
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