NEW DELHI: Saudi Arabia has denied that it has granted overflight rights to Air India flights headed for Israel from India. The denial by Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation comes after several news reports from Israel said Riyadh had agreed to let the Indian airline overfly Saudi airspace for its Delhi to Tel Aviv flight. This was followed by appeals from El Al, the Israeli airline, to be granted similar rights.
It comes when India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj is on visit to Riyadh, where India is the guest of honour at the Janadriyah Festival, the annual National Heritage and Cultural Festival of Saudi Arabia.
El Al is the only airline operating a direct eight-hour Tel Aviv-Mumbai flight. Overflight rights through Saudi airspace would cut the time by almost three hours, leading to significant cuts in costs and ticket prices.
“Discussions on the matter evolved during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India last month, where intensive talks were held between the two countries in order to approve the flight route over Saudi Arabia,” said the Jerusalem Post.
“Air India’s Delhi-Tel Aviv route could be the first concrete and public piece of evidence to the warming of ties between Israel and the Saudi leadership. Though we have known for years of quiet coordination on security issues, there has not yet been any tangible evidence above the surface,” the paper said.
It has been rumored in recent months that Riyadh may be willing to change its policies to allow Israeli flyovers, as the two countries strengthen clandestine cooperation against their common enemy, Iran.
According to the Times of Israel, “For seventy years now, Saudi airspace has been closed not only to Israeli aircraft, but to those of other nations with a flight-path to Israel. In recent decades there have only been two flights, that we know of, which have flown directly from Saudi Arabia to Israel: the US Air Force One bearing Presidents George W Bush and Donald Trump, respectively.”