Shortly after Saudi Arabia announced it was opening its airspace to all air carriers, Israel’s flagship carrier El Al Airlines on Saturday submitted an official request for permission to use Saudi skies for their flights as early as this week.
The announcement, made by Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority just hours before U.S. President Joe Biden flew to the Saudi city of Jeddah, stated it made “the decision to open the kingdom’s airspace for all air carriers that meet the requirements of the authority for overflying.”
Should Saudi Arabia agree to Israel’s request, passengers will be able to fly from Israel to the Far East using shorter flight routes as early as next week. First priority will be modified flights to Thailand, which are expected to be up to two hours shorter than current flights, which will also lower costs.
The announcement came following U.S.-brokered negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia regarding security arrangements on two Red Sea islands that were transferred from Egypt to Saudi Arabia in 2017. Israel is expected to accept the agreement that relates to the transfer of multinational forces stationed on the islands in conjunction with a peace treaty made in 1979 between Israel and Egypt.
Two other Israeli carriers, Israir and Arkia Airlines, are expected to submit similar requests.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the move, thanking Saudi leadership for opening their airspace “to Israeli airlines,” calling it “the first official step in normalization with Saudi Arabia.”
Israeli Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli wrote on Twitter: “This is an important step that will allow for flights to be significantly shortened and will reduce the prices of flights from Israel to the east.”
“This decision is the result of the president’s persistent and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in his visit today,” said U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, referring to Biden.
Prior to Friday’s announcement, Israeli planes were only allowed over Saudi airspace if traveling to or from the UAE or Bahrain, in accordance with the Abraham Accords.
Israeli planes will still be required to fly over Oman to cross over to Saudi Arabia, however, if the Saudis accept Israel’s request, it is likely that Oman will give permission as well.
This expected loosening of flight restrictions will create more flight opportunities for El Al to reach several Far East destinations and even allow for a direct flight from Israel to India. By flying over Saudi Arabia, the flight time will be shortened by over two and a half hours – from the current 7 hour and 50 minute trip to 5 hours and 15 minutes.
Reductions in fuel costs and maintenance will translate into reduced travel costs for the consumer. In addition, the projected route changes will provide additional flights – shorter times and cheaper flights – to popular Israeli destinations such as Singapore, Japan and Australia.
The move will also open the door for desirable pilgrimage flights for Muslim Israelis from the Jewish state to Mecca, which may prove to be quite lucrative for El Al.
Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej said the decision was an “exciting dream,” highlighting the positive impact of the move on Israel’s Muslim citizens, who will now enjoy cheaper, direct chartered flights to the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.
On the part of the Saudis, the move represents a success for Biden since the Saudis had held back from joining the Abraham Accords, insisting that Israel needed to settle its conflict with the Palestinians before it could normalize its relationships with Riyadh.
While Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, ties have warmed in recent years as Riyadh and its acting ruler, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have indicated a desire to improve relations with Israel. In addition, Saudi Arabia reportedly sees Israel as a strategic partner in the battle against Iran.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.