Air India makes history flying to Israel over Saudi Arabia
Air India flight AI 139 from Delhi to Tel Aviv made history yesterday by becoming the first commercial flight to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia. The flight via the airspace of Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan took seven and a half hours, two hours less than if it had been required to circumvent Saudi Arabia.
There were only 75 passengers aboard the gleaming Boeing 788 Dreamliner, which landed at Ben Gurion Airport, but Air India is confident that its three weekly flights on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursday will prove to be profitable.
On hand to greet the historic flight was Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz and Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin.
Katz told AFP, "This is an historic moment. For the first time, there has been an official connection between the State of Israel and Saudi Arabia,”
Levin echoed these sentiments. "This evening we are celebrating moving closer together our relations with India and the first ever civil connection with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. We welcome the plane's crew and its passengers."
He added, "This flight will contribute to increasing tourist traffic from India which is seeing a major upsurge. Opening this new route is part of the marketing revolution that is bringing about new records in tourists coming to Israel."
Not everybody was celebrating. El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) has not been granted rights to fly over Saudi Arabia on its Tel Aviv - Mumbai route and the Israeli carrier's CEO Gonen Usishkin is protesting unfair competition. He told "Yediot Ahronot", "The government is not acting for our benefit. We expect equal opportunity and it's a shame that the government and the prime minister do not take that into account."
Ninety minutes after landing in Israel, at 11.15 pm, the aircraft took off on the return leg to Delhi, via the same route.