According to Reuters, a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation denied the report, saying the agency had not given Air India approval to operate direct flights from Delhi to Tel Aviv.
If finally confirmed, a newly projected air route to Tel Aviv will be historic in every possible way: it’ll cost passengers less money and time, but, most importantly, it will potentially signify a new era in Saudi-Israeli ties.
The move would essentially mean that the flight duration would be reduced by two and a half hours compared to the current route, which would cut fuel costs and make tickets more affordable.
The only currently operating rival to Air India is Israeli El Al, which flies an 8-hour route to Mumbai via southern Yemen. As New Dehli is regarded as a new promising destination and has no direct routes to Israel, the airline will be getting a 750,000 euro grant for launching a new route.
Earlier, the airline sought Israel Airports Authority’s approval for flights to and from Israel, but the question had not been seriously tabled until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India last month.
The potential move is seen as a nod to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s influence in the region, who is due to arrive in the contested West Bank on February 10. Last year, he became the first Indian premier to go to Israel on an official visit.
Most importantly, however, Air India’s New Delhi-Tel Aviv route will be the first public signal of the warming relationship between Tel Aviv and Riyadh. Though there were reports earlier on their undercover cooperation on security issues, no tangible evidence has ever surfaced, Haaretz wrote.
For seventy years now, Saudi airspace has been closed not only to Israeli aircraft, but to those of other nations en route to Israel, except for privately owned jets which were to make a stop-over in Amman airport first. The recent decades have seen only two direct flights to Israel, that we know of, which have traversed the Saudi airspace, and this was the United States Air Force One carrying President George W. Bush and a subsequent flight with Donald Trump aboard.
Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states to date that have official diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv and host Israeli missions on their territory.