Abu Dhabi state carrier Etihad Airways began direct commercial passenger flights from the United Arab Emirates capital to Tel Aviv in Israel – the latest direct air link between the two countries that established diplomatic relations last year.
UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja and Israel's head of mission to the UAE Eitan Na'eh were on the inaugural flight, as well as Etihad Group CEO Tony Douglas, who called the flight "the most significant moment in the history of Etihad."
"As our countries recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have much to look forward to in commercial, diplomatic, technological, health, and tourism exchanges," Khaja was quoted as saying by UAE state news agency WAM.
WAM said on Tuesday it had launched a news service in Hebrew, becoming the first Arab news agency to do so, with its reports focusing in part on bilateral relations between the UAE and Israel.
Etihad said it would initially offer two weekly flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. The three-hour, 20 minute flight will be operated on one of the company's flagship aircraft, the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. It seats 290 passengers, with 28 business studio seats and 262 smart seats in economy class. The company expects a high demand for tickets from business people and tourists for the new route.
On Monday, the UAE placed Israel on its green list of countries, meaning visitors do not need to quarantine due to the coronavirus.
The Gulf Arab state has become a popular destinations for Israeli tourists even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt travel globally.
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The UAE and Israel are among the countries with the world's fastest COVID-19 vaccination programs. Other UAE and Israeli airlines have launched direct flights.
The UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain normalized ties with Israel last September as part of a U.S.-brokered agreement.