On Thursday, Bahrain announced that it would allow El Al aircraft flying to and from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to enter its airspace. The move follows a similar decision by Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and could substantially reduce flying times between Tel Aviv and the UAE.
Arab nations open their skies to Israel
The Bahrain News Agency issued a press release on September 3, stating that the kingdom would allow all flights between the UAE and all countries to cross its airspace. While Israel wasn’t specifically mentioned, it is included in the decision. The announcement came from an official source at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications.
The source said that the Civil Aviation Affairs department “had approved the request it had received from the General Civil Aviation Authority in the United Arab Emirates in this regard.”
On September 2, The New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia would give Israel access to some of its airspace for the first time. The announcement was also at the request of the UAE. The decision could cut flight time between Israel and the UAE in half.
According to The Times of Israel, Bahrain would only be on the flight path to the UAE if Qatar also allowed Israel into its airspace, which it doesn’t yet appear willing to do. However, in an agreement dating back to the 1970s, Bahrain controls much of Qatar’s airspace, so the opening of Bahraini skies could cut a further 20 minutes from flight times.
Historic first flight from Israel to the UAE
The announcements from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain came just days after El Al’s historic first direct flight from Israel to Abu Dhabi, which notably crossed Saudi Arabian airspace before Wednesday’s announcement. It was reported on August 31 that El Al had requested permission to fly over Saudi airspace, but at the time, it had not been confirmed that Saudi Arabia had agreed.
The flight carried high-level delegations from Israel and the United States, including Donald Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. In welcoming the delegates on board, the pilot of the El Al Boeing 737-900 said,
“This flight records two significant events in the history of the State of Israel and in the region heralding another step towards regional peace — for the very first time an Israeli-registered aircraft will overfly Saudi Arabia, and, after a nonstop flight from Israel, land in the United Arab Emirates.” He added, “At the end of this historic nonstop flight, the wheels of this aircraft, with the flag of the State of Israel on its tail, will touch down on the runway in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. This will be another significant event in our history.”
Access to Arab nations’ airspace opens up more routes
The normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE, and hopefully with other Arab nations to follow, opens up the potential for new routes for El Al. The airline is already setting up a cargo corridor between Tel Aviv and Dubai from September 16.
But the opening of the Arab nations’ skies could also allow flight paths beyond the Middle East. Down the line, El Al could open routes to India, Asia, and Australia, giving the airline potential to expand.
How do you feel about the Saudi Arabia and Bahrain opening their airspace to Israel?