Diplomatic breakthrough: Air India to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia

Air India Photo: ASAP Shutterstock
Air India Photo: ASAP Shutterstock

The new direct flights between Tel Aviv and New Delhi, starting March 20, will take six hours.

In a diplomatic breakthrough, Air India will begin operating direct flights from Israel on a route passing over Saudi Arabia. The new Tel Aviv- New Delhi route will shorten the flight time to six hours.

The Ministry of Tourism has been exerting pressure on Air India for two and a half years. The ministry believes that incoming tourism from India has potential, and began pressuring Air India to begin a direct route from New Delhi. The Indian airlines hesitated to do so, given the indirect route it involved. This problem has now been solved, and according to Air India, it will begin operating its flights on March 20 for the coming Passover holiday. Civil aviation sources expressed doubt whether the Indian airline would manage to inaugurate its route on such a tight schedule, but Air India is determined to do so.

The new flights will take place three times a week: on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. The company will receive a €750,000 yearly grant from the Ministry of Tourism, which the ministry awards to airlines opening routes to destinations classed by the Ministry of Tourism as tourist-oriented. El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) currently operates direct flights to India, but these are on the Tel Aviv-Mumbai route, and Arkia Airlines Ltd. plans to operate a direct flight to Goa, so that competition is rising, and the consumers will benefit.

Much more is involved beyond the new and shorter flight route to India. The introduction of a new flight route from Israel via Saudi Arabia will motivate other airlines to fly to Israel. The Ministry of Tourism is trying to attract direct flights from the Philippines (from where tourist pilgrims can be brought) on Philippine Airlines and direct flights to Australia with Australian airline Qantas. Such flights were previously impossible because of the long flight route. Shortening the route in this manner will open an opportunity to every airline located south of Hong Kong to operate flights to Israel, taking into account an incentive in the form of a grant in the hundreds of thousands of shekels.

Representatives of Air India were hosted in Israel a year ago, and declared their intention of beginning the route. They explained at the time that the route would only be opened if it could be shortened by overflying Saudi Arabia. Israeli security agencies were involved in the obtaining of technical and security authorization for the flights. The shortened flight will also enable the Indian airline to offer competitive prices, and passengers now have something worth waiting for.

El Al: Allow fair competition and offer flight routes over Saudi Arabia to Israeli airlines

In response to the dramatic announcement of official authorization of a Air India direct flight from Israel over Saudi Arabia, Sun D'Or CEO and El Al VP incoming commerce Michael Strassburger said, "El Al and all Israelis welcome Saudi Arabian agreement to allow flights to and from India passing over its skies. This will significantly shorten flight times, leading to lower operating costs and ticket prices for passengers. We hope and believe that this agreement will also be valid for all Israeli airlines, not just foreign airlines."

Strassburger added that from a security standpoint, there was no difference for Israeli passengers, who are already overflying Saudi Arabia with foreign airlines (on connection flights with Turkish Airlines or Royal Jordanian Airlines, for example). He added. "We believe that fair competition will benefit the customers, and in particular will maintain the equality that prevails in our operations, so that El Al and the other Israeli airlines will receive the same option."

Strassburger continued, "The possibility of shortening travel time by over two hours in each direction is also a game changer for us."

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on February 7, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

Air India Photo: ASAP Shutterstock
Air India Photo: ASAP Shutterstock
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