First Israeli Plane Flies over Saudi Airspace3 min read
On Tuesday, the first ever commercial flight from Israel departed after midnight towards a non-Gulf destination and going over the Saudi airspace.
Thanks to the new route, the duration of the flight would be cut short by almost 20 minutes.
Israel to Seychelles
Flight IZ611 of Arkia Airlines departed after 1:15 a.m. from the Ben Gurion Airport and was scheduled to arrive six hours later off the coast of South Africa in the Republic of Seychelles.
Din Gal, the chief pilot of Arkia, spoke ahead of the flight and said that the Arkia plane would be the first licensed plane in Israel to be permitted to fly over the Saudi airspace instead of Dubai to head to Seychelles.
He said that the route would go via Jordan and then turn left to Petra, as it continues along the Red Sea shores of Saudi Arabia.
It would then take its regular route, which would mean going through Eritrea. He added that flights to Sri Lanka and India would also become shorter.
The Abraham Accords normalization agreements were signed back in 2020 and since then, Saudi Arabia has permitted the use of its airspace by Israeli flights.
This was permitted for flights to and from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. However, this authorization was not applicable to flights arriving and departing at other destinations.
Last month, the Biden administration brokered a multilateral agreement for transferring the control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia from Egypt.
The deal had been made during the trip of the US President Joe Biden to the Mideast.
Both Jerusalem and Washington regarded the decision of the Saudi authorities of opening its airspace for commercial flights as the first step towards normalization.
This is because no other country had been forbidden to use the country’s airspace until then. However, Riyadh had not taken long to pour cold water over this assumption.
It insisted that the decision was made due to geopolitical reasons and had nothing to do with Israel. It was certainly not a step towards normalizing ties with the country.
US and Israel unconvinced
However, both US and Israel officials are not convinced by the Saudi position and have insisted that the statement from Riyadh was just an attempt to placate the domestic audience.
This is because the latter may be wary of normalizing ties with the Jewish state. Nonetheless, Jerusalem was also expecting Oman to do the same as Saudi Arabia.
Such a move would open up completely new routes for several locations in the far east. These include Thailand and India, which are popular vacation destinations for Israelis.
Travel time to these destinations would be reduced by two to four hours, thanks to the use of Omani and Saudi airspace.
This would also reduce ticket prices, as airlines would require lesser fuel for the flights, thereby reducing their costs.
However, Oman has not yet given any such authorization and reports indicate that neighboring Iran has pressurized Muscat to not make such a move.