Israel’s El Al has reached out to Saudi Arabia, asking for permission to fly over its airspace. It comes ahead of El Al’s historic first flight between Tel Aviv and the United Arab Emirates later today. The flight follows the establishment of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Multiple media reports coming out of Israel are reporting that the request got sent to Saudi Arabia via the National Security Council. At the time of publication, there is no confirmation the Saudis have okayed the proposal.
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Inaugural El Al flight to Abu Dhabi due to depart today
The Times of Israel was reporting over the weekend that the El Al flight was listed on the Israel Airports Authority website to depart from Ben Gurion Airport on Monday. That flight would head over to Abu Dhabi before returning on Tuesday. However, at the time of this report’s publication, the flight was no longer listed among Monday’s departures at Ben Gurion Airport.
That’s not to say it isn’t happening. But the flight is reportedly carrying several VIPs, including the White House’s Jared Kushner and senior other senior Trump administration officials. Also expected to be onboard is Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s head of the Civil Aviation Authority, and high profile figures from Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign and Defense Ministries. Perhaps it has been decided a little discretion is in order.
Flightpath options are limited
It’s 2,500 kilometers between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. A direct flight path would take the El Al flight straight over the top of Saudi Arabia. Frankly, El Al’s alternative flight path options are limited. The neighborhood isn’t friendly. Both Syria and Iraq do not allow overfly traffic to and from Israel, ruling out a northern approach and a fast run down the Persian Gulf.
The flight over Saudi Arabia would take about three hours and will use a Boeing 737-900. If restrictions forced he airline to take the southern route down the Red Sea and out over the Arabian Sea (both Yemen and Oman also blacklist flights to and from Israel), the flight would take about eight hours.
But there’s a quiet expectation Saudi Arabia will give the flights the nod. Prior recent “unofficial” flights over Saudi airspace got approved. Officially, Saudi Arabia has allowed Air India flights between Tel Aviv and Delhi and Mumbai to overfly the country since 2018.
A small step towards a bigger future for El Al
While Saudi Arabia does not welcome the establishment of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the deal got brokered by the United States. There are close links between Saudi Arabia and the United States. There doubtless would have been some quiet back-channel diplomacy over the weekend.
There’s another reason why today’s flight to Abu Dhabi is noteworthy. It will be El Al’s first regular commercial service for a long time. El Al’s planes were indefinitely grounded in early July, mired in financial problems and broader 2020 travel downturn issues. While today’s flight is more about symbolism than revenue, it’s a step towards resuming normal operations.
There’s also hope that today’s flight over Saudi Arabia would help open up a new flight path east for El Al. Beyond Abu Dhabi are India, Asia, and Australia, all places El Al would like to fly to down the track.