Israeli Planes Still Can't Fly Shorter Routes to East Asia Despite Saudi Greenlight

While Saudi Arabia has permitted Israeli airlines to fly over it, they must still bypass the Arabian Peninsula until neighboring Oman formally approves the move

Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane
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An El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, in 2021.
An El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, in 2021.Credit: Moti Milrod
Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane

Saudi Arabia officially informed Israeli airlines on Wednesday that it would allow them to fly through its airspace, but this will confer no practical benefit until Oman – which also doesn't have diplomatic relations with Israel – follows suit.

"Oman may have declared in principle that permission will be given to fly over it the moment the Saudis approve, but this has not yet been formalized," a senior Israeli aviation industry official said. "In order to fly a specific route, you need approval of the entire flight path, which can take time to receive – between a few days to a week or two," the official explained.

The official added that upon the arrival of such approvals, the airlines – El Al, Arkia and Israir – will likely announce these quickly given that they are publicly traded companies.

The opening of Saudi and Omani airspace would affect El Al and Arkia, and shorten the time of the flights to destinations in Asia by about two and a half hours. It will also enable direct flights to more distant destinations such as Australia and help with the availability of both aircraft and crew, which in turn allows the airlines to fly to more destinations.

For example, a flight from Israel to Thailand would take only eight hours, instead of the 10 hours required today. Flights to either Mumbai or Goa, which currently take about seven and a half hours, would be cut down to only five hours.

Until now, Israeli airlines' flights to East Asia, India and Thailand were barred from flying over Saudi Arabia. Instead, they had been required to fly south in order to avoid the Arabian Peninsula – a route that added two and a half hours and wasted expensive fuel.

In July, Saudi Arabia announced during U.S. President Joe Biden's trip to Jerusalem and Riyadh that it would open its airspace to all civilian flights, including those from Israel.

Arkia has announced it plans on adding flights to new destinations in East Asia. Today, the airline flies to Goa in India, but is now considering adding flights to Sri Lanka and Thailand. El Al, which already flies to India, will be able to shorten its flights and better compete with foreign airlines, including Air India, which already is allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia on its route to Tel Aviv.

The considerably shorter flight times will also allow El Al to operate smaller planes on these routes. Instead of needing to use wide-body jets such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or Boeing 777, the airlines could potentially use its Boeing 737 fleet for routes to India. In turn, that would free up some of its larger planes for new and more distant destinations such as Australia and Japan.

El Al is currently unable to fly directly to Australia because of the long flight time – between 18 and 19 hours. The opening of the airspace over the Arabian Peninsula would shorten that flight to about 15 to 16 hours.

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