Mideast Watershed: Mumbai – Israel Flights Can Use Saudi Airspace

A month ago I wrote that Saudi Arabia would allow Air India to fly through its airspace to operate Mumbai – Tel Aviv. There was much handwringing at the time and even a denial from the General Authority of Civil Aviation in Riyadh.

However there’s clearly crack ups in the old order within the Mideast. While conflict with Israel gets the most press in the U.S., the primary conflict is between Saudi Arabia (along with Turkey) seeking Sunni influence in the region and working to counter Shia Iran. The conflict in Syria, for instance, is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis have fought Iran-backed rebels in Yemen over the past several years.

Though anti-Israel rhetoric continues, it’s notable that Turkish-Israeli trade has quadrupled under Erdoğan and economic interests are bringing the countries closer together.

While anti-Israel rhetoric is kept up publicly, Israel has become an important trading and security partner for Sunni states.

Saudi Arabia doesn’t just ban flights between the Kingdom and Israel but until now has banned aircraft departing from or bound for Israel from using its airspace. The only known flights to circumvent this restriction were by US Presidents onboard Air Force One. Private flights using Saudi airspace generally make Amman, Jordan a technical stop to circumvent this restriction.

Granting El Al overflight rights would be a bridge to far at this point, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday “that Saudi Arabia had granted Air India permission to fly over its territory on its new routes to and from Tel Aviv.”

Here’s how El Al’s flight LY72 routes from Tel Aviv to Mumbia:

However here’s what a direct routing would look like:

That’s not a win for El Al but it’s progress for peace in the Mideast.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. A change that presents a Saudi double-standard favoring a non-Israeli airline which competes on that route against Israel’s flag carrier (and might hurt LY’s profits on that route) is not progress towards peace.

  2. @AsherO, Netanyahu sees it is an important positive step forward. Things are changing in Saudi Arabia, and that should be encouraged even if it isn’t everything at once.

  3. The only thing worse than flying Air India would be flying AI over Saudi airspace. No thanks

  4. I notice that the new direct route goes over Iran, Iraq and Kuwait. Did they permit using their airspace en-route to Israel too?

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