Riyadh denies claims Israel-bound Indian flights will use Saudi airspace

Conflicting reports have emerged with regard to India Air’s recently announced direct flights to the Jewish state.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israeli media reported Wednesday that Saudi Arabia has given its approval for Air India to operate direct flights from New Delhi to Tel Aviv using its airspace. This would save passengers over two hours of flying time, as opposed to the route that Israel’s airline, El Al, must take to avoid the Arab state, which still has no official diplomatic relations with Israel.

El Al immediately demanded that the government allow it, too, to use the new route, so that it wouldn’t lose all its business to its new Indian rival, which could easily charge less for its services because of the amount of gas it would save on the shorter run.

However, several hours later, Saudi officials denied ever having given such permission.
The report came as Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on an official visit, Reuters reported.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, Air India will probably launch three direct flights per week between New Delhi and Tel Aviv by the end of March. The country’s flag carrier will also be getting a handsome gift of 750,000 euros from Israel for doing so.

“It is a one-time grant for an airline opening a new direct route into Tel Aviv from a destination that has potential for incoming tourism,” explained the ministry’s spokesperson, Lydia Weitzman on Tuesday in the Times of India.

The paper also noted the projections of the ministry’s director general, Amir Halevi. “The number of tourists from China to Israel doubled in one year after the start of direct flight by Hainan Airlines. We expect something similar with India,” he said.

This would mean about 120,000 visitors from one of the world’s most populous countries, as Indian tourism to Israel in 2017 reached 60,000 visitors, an all-time high.