El Al pursues right to fly over Saudi Arabia

The Israeli carrier is defending its market share in anticipation of competition from Air India’s direct flights to Tel Aviv.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

El Al’s new CEO, Gonen Usishkin, appealed to the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for help facilitating the Israeli airline’s use of Saudi airspace on Tel Aviv-Mumbai flights, according to a Reuters report Thursday.

El Al currently flies nonstop four times a week to India, but because it has to use a roundabout route to avoid the Arab country, the trip takes seven hours. Air India is about to start its own direct flights to Israel, and has asked Riyadh for permission to do so by flying over Saudi Arabia on its thrice-weekly trips. This would cut the trip down to five hours, decreasing costs significantly and leading to much lower prices for potential customers.

Although Saudi officials denied granting permission to Air India three weeks ago, there has yet to be an official announcement regarding the issue.

“I am approaching you and kindly requesting IATA to intervene and to represent aviation industry’s interest by advocating equal overfly rights for all carriers over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and opposing any form of discrimination,” he reportedly wrote to the organization’s head, Alexandre de Juniac. He added that he has approached Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for help in the matter as well.

The IATA is the trade association for the world’s airlines, representing some 83% of total air traffic. As it maintains close relations with governments and their aviation agencies, and one of its stated purposes is to “support competition authorities in addressing abuses of market dominance,” it is a natural address to turn to for help in getting Riyadh to relax its anti-Israel stance, at least where civil aviation is concerned.
If El Al’s efforts are successful, this would mark the first time that a country that is still officially at war with Israel sanctioned the Jewish state’s use of its airspace.