Air India, the flag carrier airline of India, is set to make its journey to Israel today by flying through Saudi airspace for the first time.
Contrary to the tradition route which skirts around the Arabian Peninsula and over the Red Sea, making the journey over Saudi Arabia directly will significantly reduce flight times between India and Israel.
The 256-seater Boeing 787 Dreamliner was due to leave New Delhi at 6pm local time (13:30GMT), and will arrive at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport at 9:45pm Israeli time(19:45GMT), in what will be the first time the Saudi government has officially allowed a flight to travel in its airspace and straight to Israel.
The acceptance of the airline to pass directly through Saudi airspace en route to Israel adds to ongoing speculation that the Kingdom is becoming increasingly tolerant of relations towards Tel Aviv. It also comes amid reports that the Saudi Crown Prime Mohammed Bin Salman has been making secret trips to Israel, prompting fears that it might even be opening up to official and diplomatic recognition of the country, causing a shift in the status quo of not having done so ever since the Israeli state’s establishment in 1948.
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the new deal that “Air India signed an agreement today to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia,” during a briefing at the Blair House in Washington, DC. As the route was confirmed, an Air India spokesman revealed that the company plans to operate flights on that same route three days a week.
The Israeli flag carrier airline, El Al, is looking to gain similar access to pass through Saudi airspace in order to secure the same benefits. The airline has appealed to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to grant it similar rights of access, with its CEO Gonen Usishkin claiming it would be discriminatory for El Al not to get Saudi permission to access its airspace while Air India has.