image Photo: Reuters, Flash90

Saudis open more airspace to Israeli flights

Until now, routes to Israel could overfly Saudi territory to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain after the two Gulf states established ties with the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.

By Erin Viner

Dropping of the restrictions to allow unimpeded access to Saudi airspace means airlines will be able to reach Asia, too, in a move that would save fuel costs and reduce flight times. cut time and costs on routes to Asia that formerly had to navigate around the Kingdom.

Aviation data reveals that Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific and Air Seychelles flew over Saudi Arabia to Israel for the first time.

Riyadh announced last month that it intended open its airspace to all airlines en route to Israel. In the absence of open relations between the countries, however, and given talks on including Oman in the expanded corridor, Israeli Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli estimated at the time that implementation would take several weeks.

The opening of Saudi airspace to flights to and from Israel was a focus of the July visit to the region by United States President Joe Biden. Prior to his visit, the only carrier allowed to use Saudi airspace for Tel Aviv services that did not originate or end in the UAE or Bahrain was Air India, based on a exemption that Riyadh granted New Delhi. The American leader has said the opening of Saudi airspace to all airlines flying to and from Israel could help build momentum toward further integration of the Jewish State with the Mideast – including Riyadh.

Air Seychelles confirmed that “became the first airline to receive permission from the Saudi Arabian authorities to overfly their territory” with a Tel Aviv to Mahe flight on Wednesday evening.

The new route “means a reduction in fuel burn between 500kg-1000kg per flight (and that) the aircraft can now carry an additional 20 passengers per flight,” the airline said in a statement. The flight’s captain described the Saudi air traffic controllers as “extremely helpful and allowed us to navigate with optimal conditions for passenger comfort.”

Israeli airlines are now planning to expand and open new routes to India and other Asian destinations. The national El Al Israel Airlines carrier said it hopes for implementation of unfettered Saudi overflight rights “soon.” An El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Bangkok on Wednesday flew over the Red Sea to avoiding Saudi Arabia.

Israeli Transportation Minister Michaeli indicated talks with Riyadh on implementation still required mediation due to the ‘regrettable’ current lack of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Riyadh. “Therefore this matter is not being addressed through direct contacts between the civilian authorities,” Michaeli told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM, underscoring, “But we are working on this at full tilt.”

Israel’s Tourism Ministry has previously stated that expansion of the Saudi corridor would eventually lower the cost of airline tickets by around 20%, although airlines have been less explicit about a price drop.