Air India given permission to use Saudi airspace for flights to Israel, says Benjamin Netanyahu

Air India flights from India to Israel have been given the rights to fly over Saudi Arabia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Monday.

“Air India signed an agreement today to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by the Times of Israel.

Netanyahu’s confirmation comes nearly a month after the Israeli newspaper Haaretz first reported the development. Then, sources from within Air India had confirmed that permission to use Saudi airspace for flights to Israel was coming soon.

Saudi officials or Air India are yet to officially confirm the development, which would cut down the flight time between India and Israel by around two-and-a-half hours. Being able to use Saudi airspace to fly to Israel would also allow the national carrier to cut down on costs.

Saudi Arabia does not recognise Israel and lifting the 70-year-old airspace ban would reflect what appears to be thawing ties between Israel and the kingdom. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel are US allies with a shared concern over Iranian influence in the region.

While Air India is yet to confirm the development, sources had previously told India Today that the national carrier had made plans to operate Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on the India-Israel route.

There has been a lot of confusion over the status whether or not the Saudis have granted permission for Air India to use the kingdom’s airspace. Last month, news agency Reuters reported that the General Authority of Civil Aviation in Riyadh had denied giving such permission to the carrier.

Currently, Israel’s El Al Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, flies four weekly flights to Mumbai. These take seven hours as they fly south toward Ethiopia and then east to India, avoiding Saudi airspace.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel last year in a high-profile visit that saw the India and Israel sign a number of agreements. An apparent bonhomie between PM Modi and PM Benjamin Netanyahu was among the highlights of that trip.