Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today expressed hope that direct flights over Saudi Arabia from Tel Aviv to Mumbai would soon materialise, days after Air India’s maiden flight from New Delhi flew over Saudi airspace to Israel’s economic hub.
Netanyahu in a Cabinet meeting indicated that the next goal is to allow direct flights over Saudi Arabia from Tel Aviv to Mumbai by Israeli flag carrier El Al.
El Al currently has four direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai, but it must take a circuitous route to avoid Saudi airspace, and a flight that should take just under five hours, ends up taking about eight.
On Thursday, Air India’s maiden flight to Israel landed in Tel Aviv, reducing the travel time substantially after Saudi Arabia for the first time allowed a commercial flight to use its airspace, indicating a thaw in relations between the Arab kingdom and the Jewish state.
State-run Air India introduced the direct thrice-a-week flight from New Delhi to Tel Aviv, heralding a new beginning in people-to-people contacts and diplomatic ties between India and Israel.
Saudi Arabia permitted Air India to use its airspace, enabling it to take a shorter route that covers the distance in 7.25 hours, about 2.10 hours less as compared to El Al, the only other airline that flies between Israel and India.
Though he did not mention El Al by name, Netanyahu said that following the Air India flights, “the goal that I hope we set for ourselves is that the next flight or flights will also include direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai in five hours, less time than Tel Aviv to London. The significance of that would be enormous,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
Saudi Arabia, while granting overflight rights to Air India for flights to and from Israel, has so far been unwilling to do the same for El Al.
Netanyahu characterised Air India’s inaugural flight as “historic” saying “the significance of this is clear to everyone”.
“Israel’s economy will grow in two ways either with new products or through new markets,” he said, adding “What we did here is break through to huge new markets, and this is a very big change”.
Netanyahu said that paving the way for the Air India flights is something that has taken a number of years, and creates “tremendous potential for Israel. I think the long term significance for Israel will become clear later, but now there is no need to talk more about it, in order to ensure other similar developments”. PTI