New Delhi: National carrier Air India’s maiden flight to Tel Aviv took off from New Delhi at 6 pm today, heralding a new chapter in the India-Israel ties and ending a decades-old overfly ban by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to permit Air India to use its airspace has enabled the airline to take a shorter route.
It will cover the distance in 7.25 hours, 2.10 hours less than the time taken by the only other airline that flies between the two countries — Israel’s national carrier El Al.
Many Arab and Islamic nations do not recognise Israel and, therefore, disallow airlines from using their airspace for flight services to that country.
The Delhi-Tel Aviv direct flight is expected to boost tourism in both the countries, besides taking the diplomatic relations to a new level.
The flight will operate every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. While the inaugural flight AI 139 left at 6 pm today, the schedule departure will be 4.50 pm from March 25 when the summer schedule comes into operation.
The state-run carrier will be operating its 256-seater Boeing 787 Dreamliner on this route.
Air India’s Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) Pradeep Kharola and Israel Ministry of Tourism’s Director Hassan Madah cut a symbolic cake to mark the start of the direct flight to Israel.
Kharola had earlier said the airline anticipates interest from travellers from countries further to the east of India such as Australia.
The Air India flight will fly over Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to reach Israel.
The permission to fly over Saudi Arabia will save Air India almost 2 hours and 10 minutes compared to the longer route taken by Israel’s national carrier El Al, which has direct flights between Tel Aviv and Mumbai.
El Al takes a circuitous route over the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and then enters India and avoids countries that are on the direct flight path such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.