El Al is suing the government of Israel — the Civil Aviation Authority, the Prime Minister, and the Transportation Minister. They’re also suing Air India.
That’s because Saudi Arabia (and not the government of Israel) is allowing Air India to traverse its airspace on flights between India and Israel.
Alright so this is getting about as confusing as an episode of Soap.
I’ll start by saying that it’s a good thing Saudi Arabia is allowing Air India to use its airspace for these flights. It represents a thawing of relations. Only US Presidents have been able to go through Saudi airspace enroute to El Al without stopping in a third country first (generally Jordan).
However they aren’t also allowing El Al to use their airspace. And that puts El Al at a competitive disadvantage, because their flights have to take a more circuitous route. That takes longer. And it costs more.
Here’s how El Al’s flight LY72 routes from Tel Aviv to Mumbai:
However here’s what a direct routing would look like:
Air India is flying Delhi – Tel Aviv, and not competing directly with El Al’s Mumbai – Tel Aviv. But El Al is concerned that other airlines will soon be able to fly through Saudi airspace traveling to and from Israel, putting the Israeli carrier at a disadvantage. So they want to stop it in its tracks.
They’re asking the Israeli Supreme Court to say that if El Al can’t use Saudi airspace on flights to and from Israel, that no one can.
El Al’s lawyers say that the deal with Air India violates a binding commitment to ensure fair competition and equal opportunities it made with the Israeli government when it was privatized in 1994, as well as international aviation conventions. The airline is asking for an injunction prohibiting Air India flights to Israel over Saudi Arabia until it is afforded the same privilege.
The Israeli government for its part would prefer to move forward with flights over Saudi Arabia and move to a place where even El Al could use it. Here’s the Minister of Transportation:
The first Air India direct flight to Israel through Saudi airspace reflects the positive change which is gradually taking place in the region. I hope that in the not so distant future Israeli carriers like El Al will also be allowed to use this route. pic.twitter.com/T0i9xXfe5a
— ישראל כץ Israel Katz (@Israel_katz) March 23, 2018
Indeed the Prime Minister “said his goal was to introduce shorter, five-hour flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai.”