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AI to launch Delhi-Tel Aviv flight via Saudi airspace

08 March 2018

Air India has announced that its Tel Aviv-Delhi flights will begin March 22.

On Monday, Reuters reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on a state visit to Washington, D.C., said at a press event that Saudi Arabia had permitted Air India to fly over its territory on its new routes to and from Tel Aviv.

The Air India spokesman, Praveen Bhatnagar said the flight will operate three times a week - Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday - and its duration will be almost two hours shorter than current flight times, reducing the journey to a seven-hour service.

Confirming weeks of speculation, the prime minister added that the flight would now take as long as the journey from Tel Aviv to London.

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If Air India were to take this route from New Delhi, it would cover the entire distance in more than nine hours, according to the source. Typically, even government aircraft belonging to allies were forced to make a stopover elsewhere.

Flying over Saudi Arabia significantly shortens the route's flight time.

El Al Israel Airlines, the country's flag carrier, flies four weekly flights to Mumbai but these take seven hours rather than five as they take a route south towards Ethiopia and then east to India, avoiding Saudi airspace. The plane must now take a detour over the Red Sea and around the Arabian Peninsula.

Finally, the Saudi authorities, ending a 70-year ban and marking a dramatic diplomatic shift, have allowed the flight to overfly Saudi airspace.

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Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and lifting the airspace ban for El Al would offer further evidence of what appears to be thawing of ties.

El Al slammed what it termed a "discriminatory" move by Saudi authorities, in a letter to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) this week.

The official added that the shorter flight duration, combined with Air India's strong domestic network, could give the national carrier an advantage over El Al. The flights will arrive in Israel and wait on the ground for only two hours before returning to India.

Rumors also circulated that a senior Saudi prince made a diplomatic trip to Israel with officials.

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AI to launch Delhi-Tel Aviv flight via Saudi airspace