Yesterday, Etihad Airways flew to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, making the first commercial flight from a Gulf country to the Jewish state. As part of ‘normalized relations’ between the UAE and Israel, we will soon be seeing regularly scheduled flights between the two countries’ major cities. On Sunday, October 18th, the two nations agreed to 28 weekly flights – an agreement that is expected to be signed in Tel Aviv today.
Bilateral air services agreement
After a historic normalization agreement was reached in September, further arrangements are being made to foster political and economic relations between Israel and several Gulf nations. The first nations to go ahead with this have been the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.
According to One Mile At A Time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to sign the bilateral air services agreement (ASA) today at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
This agreement will reportedly include the following:
- 28 weekly scheduled passenger flights between UAE and Israel
- 10 weekly cargo flights
- Unlimited charter flights between Israel’s Ramon Airport (near Eilat) and the UAE
There is still a lot we don’t know about these flights. Details such as:
- Which airlines will be allowed to fly
- Which routes will be established
- When services will begin
- Flight schedules and the division of frequencies
However, that doesn’t stop us from making some educated guesses for these questions.
When it comes to routes, it’s quite easy to guess as both countries are small and only have a handful of international airports. The most obvious services will be between Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport to the UAE cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Would we see flights to Emirates like Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah? It’s not as likely and would be quite a surprise.
When it comes to airlines flying these services, Israeli and UAE flag carriers El Al and Etihad, respectively, have already operated the historic ‘first commercial flights’ from one country to another*. El Al flew from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi in August, while yesterday was Etihad’s first commercial service out of Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv. It’s safe to say that these two airlines will be operating between the two countries. The Dubai-based Emirates is highly likely to be included in operating service between Dubai and Tel Aviv.
As 28 weekly scheduled flights are on the table, we would imagine the bilateral agreement would divide this in half for each country – 14 each. Emirates and Etihad could each get seven flights per week. We would imagine Israel’s El Al being guaranteed some frequencies while the much smaller Israir has already been looking at UAE landing rights. However, it’s hard to know if Arkia will also want to operate service to the UAE.
*While the flights were called historic ‘first commercial flights,’ the term is debatable. Yes, they were operated by commercial airlines. However, they were specially arranged charters transporting delegates rather than normal public travelers who purchased tickets.
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No regularly-scheduled flights until January?
There is still the big question of ‘when’ – something that is much more difficult to answer due to the global health crisis. An Israeli government official is on record saying that direct flights between UAE and Israel may not start until January 1st as travel restrictions continue to affect demand. According to Gulf News, the Deputy Mayor of East Jerusalem is quoted as saying:
“Originally, it was said it was going to start in the first week of October – then we had a lockdown in Israel…At the moment I’m hearing January 1 as a target date for direct flights.” -Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Deputy Mayor of East Jerusalem
We’ll just have to wait and see if Mr. Hassan-Nahoum is right in his prediction. We’ll probably discover dates once airlines start selling tickets – which could happen in a matter of weeks.
When do you think regularly scheduled services will begin for the two countries? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.