Israeli carriers will expand their route networks after Saudi Arabia opted to allow them full overflight access last week. The airlines are planning new routes to India and other Asian destinations, and there has even been talk of flights to Tokyo and Melbourne. Access to Saudi Airspace reduces journey times and fuel burn for Israeli carriers, expanding their potential range. Israel’s Tourism Ministry believes the change could reduce ticket prices by 20% in the long run.
Saudi Airspace Opened to All Carriers
Last Friday, Saudi Arabia announced they would be opening their airspace to all carriers, including those from Israel. The United States has played a key role in mediating the decision, which was made ahead of President Biden’s visit to the Arab nation last weekend.
Israeli Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli said implementation of the new permissions could take several weeks, especially given talks of including Oman in the expanded corridor. Oman granted initial access for Israeli overflights in 2018, but the details will need further discussion. When asked when the change would come into effect, Micheli told Reuters: “your guess is as good as mine. I hope it’s not months, but weeks.”
Implications for Israeli Carriers
The move has significant implications for Israeli carriers, who have wasted no time in applying for Saudi airspace access. Flag carrier El Al and rival Arkia have both applied for overflight permissions, which will cut roughly two-and-a-half hours from flights to India and Thailand.
This would allow El Al to use smaller planes on its route to Mumbai, said El Al official Shlomi Am Shalom. “We can take a big aeroplane and use it in other places like Australia and Japan,” he said, adding that flights to Melbourne and Tokyo were still in their early planning stages.
Arkia announced plans to fly to Goa, India, in November, with potential flights to Thailand and Sri Lanka also on the table. Until now, Israeli flights to Asia have had to go via the red sea, skirting around Yemen to avoid Saudi airspace.
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