While the prospect of flights by Air India on routes to and from Israel has seen ups and downs, a hint is emerging that official activity may be imminent. According to reports yesterday by the Bloomberg news agency, Israel has authorized Air India to commence flights from Ben Gurion Airport to Delhi on March 6.
Bloomberg also reported that the Israel Civil Aviation Authority had also confirmed the information. The Civil Aviation Authority told "Globes" that the airline had reserved a slot for this date, but it is not clear whether the Indian airline intends to use it. Air India today changed the slot for the flight to March 15, but the company's website is not yet offering reservations for flights on the Tel Aviv-Delhi route.
The Civil Aviation Authority further lowered expectations by saying that no such flight has been scheduled. While Air India's website does not even list a flight to Israel as a search option, Bloomberg's reports indicate that there is room for optimism. The agency stated yesterday that while it was unclear whether the flights would take the long or the short route (the short route overflies Saudi Arabia), it emphasized that the flights would take place in any event.
On February 7, "Globes" broke the story that Saudi Arabia would allow Air India to operate direct flights on the Tel Aviv-Delhi route in its skies, which would shorten the flight time by at least two hours. The celebrations were rudely interrupted when Saudi Arabia denied the report the same day, shortly after El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) declared that were it possible, it would demand that it be allowed to use a similar route. For passengers, it will mean not only shorter flying times but also the adjustment of prices to a shorter route if the route is opened to competition. El Al currently operates direct flights to India only on the route to Mumbai. The flight time on this route is eight hours.
It is possible that Saudi Arabia was alarmed at the media fuss, and therefore retracted the approval it had given to the Indian airline. Passengers' enthusiasm resulted not only from the possibility of shorter flights to India, but also the possibility that Saudi Arabia's skies would be opened to the shortening of continuation flights to various Far Eastern destinations, which would make Australia more accessible to Israel.
Representatives of Air India have been in contact with the Ministry of Tourism for some time. A year ago, the airline's representatives also visited Israel with the aim of opening up a direct route. The Ministry of Tourism sees potential in bring tourists to Israel from India, one of the countries that it has marked as a worthwhile object for its efforts. These efforts are also being translated into hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants in the event that Air India does operate flights to Israel, whether on the short route, or even the longer route. In any event, competition will benefit the consumer.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on February 27, 2018
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