Air India route to Israel launches this month, expected to fly over Saudi


New Delhi (AFP)

India's state-run carrier Wednesday confirmed the launch of flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv later this month which are expected to use Saudi airspace.

The move would effectively end a decades-long Saudi ban on the use of its airspace for flights to Israel.

The new route was announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last July, with Israel's leader Benjamin Netanyahu first suggesting in January the route could pass over Saudi Arabia.

An Air India spokesman told AFP Wednesday the airline had received permission and a timetable for the route from India's regulator, the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA), which appeared to confirm that route.

"The route time given by the DGCA to us is seven hours and five minutes, and looking at that schedule we believe it must be flying over the Saudi airspace," the spokesman said.

Saudi Arabia's civil aviation authority did not respond to AFP's request for comment.

Saudi Arabia has no official ties with Israel, with Israel's national carrier El Al currently taking a detour over the Red Sea on its India service to avoid flying over Saudi Arabia as well as Iran.

Netanyahu told reporters in Washington earlier this week that Air India had reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia to use their airspace.

But Wednesday's statement was the first official confirmation by the airline about operationalising the new air route, after weeks of speculation and reports in local media.

Flying over Saudi Arabia significantly shortens the route's flight time.

The thrice-a-week flight to Tel Aviv from Delhi will begin March 22, the company said in its statement to the media.

Riyadh has maintained its public silence on Israeli hints of covert ties with the Sunni-ruled kingdom.