Saudi Arabia has said it will open its airspace to all civilian airlines, including flights from Israel. The move was commended by President Joe Biden, who is due to visit the Arab nation on Friday.

The White House said the decision is the result of “persistent and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in [the president’s] visit today”. Opening the airspace will reduce flight time and fuel burn on Israeli flights that were previously forced to use alternative routes.

Saudi Arabia allows overflights

The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) announced the country’s airspace is now open to all carriers that meet its standards for overflights. The change brings them in line with the Chicago Convention of 1944, which states there should be no discrimination between civil aircraft.

Saudi Arabia grants overflight permissions to Israel
The move comes following diplomatic talks between the US and Saudi Arabia | © Amr Nabil / AP Photo

The regulator said the decision would “complement the efforts aimed at consolidating the Kingdom’s position as a global hub connecting three continents” and “enhance international air connectivity”.

Former Saudi overflight restrictions against Qatar led to the creation of the Doha FIR earlier this year, the first time the airspace map has been changed to include a country without an airspace.

Implications for Israel

Saudi Arabia’s decision to open its airspace will be welcome news to Israeli carriers. Until now, their flights have had to bypass the territory, adding to the travel time and increasing fuel burn. Routes departing to Asian countries such as India and China will particularly feel the benefit following the easing of restrictions.

Saudi Airspace opens to Israel
Israeli carriers were given special permission to fly to UAE and Bahrain | © Business Traveller

Whilst Israel has been prohibited from using Saudi airspace in the past, the Arab nation created a special air corridor for Israeli flights to and from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, following the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.

On Thursday, a U.S. official told Reuters they expected the nation to permit direct charter flights from Israel for Muslim pilgrims participating in Hajj.

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