On Thursday, UAE flag-carrier Etihad and its Israeli counterpart announced that they had signed an MOU providing for a potential codeshare agreement. The latest step in the historic cooperation could also see reciprocity for frequent flier miles and greater collaboration in engineering, as Etihad announces daily flights to Tel Aviv beginning in March next year.
Gradual unraveling of tensions
The year 2020 has brought many unexpected events, to say the least. The historic defrosting of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel continues to unfold via their national airlines. On August 13th, the two countries signed a deal establishing full diplomatic relations and brokered the setting up of direct air links.
Now, the two parties have taken one step further towards deepening ties and airborne collaboration. On Thursday, their flag-carriers, Etihad Airways and El Al announced that they had signed a virtual Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
The MOU scope provides for joint codeshare services, which will include not only services between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv but also on the airlines’ global networks. It also introduces the possibility to offer reciprocal “earn and burn” through frequent flier programs.
“Following EL AL’s historic flight to Abu Dhabi (…) this MOU is the foundation of what we envision will be a strong ongoing relationship between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. We look forward to examining ways in which the two flag carriers (…) can work more closely together to improve business operations and enhance the experience for our guests,” Tony Douglas, CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, said in a statement.
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“Only the start”
Furthermore, it contains plans for greater cooperation in cargo, engineering, destination management as well as optimizing pilot and cabin crew training facilities.
Mr Douglas’ counterpart at El Al Israel Airlines, Gonen Usishkin, provided the following statement after signing the milestone document,
“Following the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE, we have been provided a great opportunity to examine the possibility of cooperation with Etihad Airways. This MOU is only the start and we believe that together, the two flag carriers will be able to provide our mutual customers with the best possible product and service. Already, the common goals we have outlined speak for the success of our future cooperation.”
Historic regional cooperation
Even before the signing of the historic treaty on August 13th, there were indications of the easing of tensions between the UAE and Israel as Etihad operated a series of aid flights to Tel Aviv, starting in May.
On August 31st, El Al operated the first commercial flight between Israel and the UAE, carrying high-level officials from Israel and the US, which helped broker the deal. Moreover, on its way to Abu Dhabi, the Boeing 737-900 was allowed to fly through Saudi Arabian airspace. This was the first time an Israeli registered aircraft had been granted permission to do so.
Etihad will fly daily from March
On October 19th, the first Etihad commercial flight in the opposite direction took off. This was merely a day after the two countries reached an agreement to operate 28 weekly passenger flights, 10 weekly cargo flights, and unlimited charter flights between the UAE and Israel’s Ramon Airport near Eilat. Etihad has announced its intention to commence a daily service between Abu Dhabi and Ben Gurion Airport from March 28th, 2021.
What do you think of this latest step towards deepening ties between Israel and the UAE? What does it mean for aviation in the region as a whole? Let us know in the comments.