El Al is on its way to overfly the kingdom as well, shortening travel time to the East.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
For the first time, a commercial flight to Tel Aviv flew over Saudi airspace on Thursday, just weeks after the kingdom had announced its authorization.
The Cathay Pacific plane departed from Hong Kong and flew over northern Saudi Arabia and Jordan to Ben Gurion airport.
During U.S. President Biden’s visit to Riyadh last month, the Saudis announced permission for “all air carriers that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflying” their country to do so, including Israel. Until then, the only flights permitted to fly over Saudi airspace to connect with Israel were those to and from India (since 2018) and, following the signing of the Abraham Accords in late 2020, Bahrain and the UAE.
The move came in return for Israel’s granting of permission to Egypt to return control to Saudi Arabia of two islands in the strategic Straits of Tiran leading into the Red Sea, which were demilitarized since the Six Day War in 1967.
While Biden hailed the news as a step towards the kingdom’s normalization with Israel, the Saudis immediately quashed the notion, saying that the move had “nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel.”
Biden was the first American president to fly directly to Jeddah from Tel Aviv, where he began his two-stop Mideast tour.
On Wednesday, Air Seychelles became the first airline to use Saudi airspace to fly from Tel Aviv. There are conflicting reports as to whether Israel’s national carrier, El Al, has received overflight permission, but it is expected to happen very soon if not yet. Israeli company Arkia, too, is eyeing flights to places that are popular with Israeli tourists, such as Thailand and Sri Lanka, via Saudi Arabia.
El Al has long complained that Air India had an unfair edge in competition for passengers to and from the subcontinent since its flight time was shorter and, therefore, the prices cheaper.
Experts in the tourism industry say the Saudi move could lead to an explosion of tourism to Israel, especially from Asia.
Consumers are also expecting prices to drop with the increase in competition and significant savings in jet fuel, which accounts for some 35% of a flight’s cost.