India’s national carrier has secured permission to begin direct flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv that will pass through Saudi airspace, an official has said.
Air India spokesman Pravin Bhatnagar said the airline will start flying the route three times a week from March 22.
The move ends a decades-long ban by Saudi Arabia on the use of its airspace for flights to Israel.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have no formal diplomatic ties. The decision by Saudi Arabia to allow the Indian carrier to fly through its airspace to Tel Aviv reflects what is widely believed to be a warming of behind-the-scenes ties between the two countries.
Air India plans to operate flights three days a week, and the flight would save two hours of travel time as a result of flying over the Saudi airspace, an Air India spokesman said.
Netanyahu said on Monday that Saudi Arabia had granted Air India permission to fly over its territory on its new routes to and from Tel Aviv, but there was no confirmation from either Saudi Arabia or Air India.
Saudi’s General Authority of Civil Aviation was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.
Air India’s website showed options to book flights to Tel Aviv from New Delhi starting March 22, with fares starting at 24,124 Indian rupees ($371.94).
The national carrier, which has also received approval from the country’s aviation regulator to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia, would operate a 7 hour 5 minute flight between the two cities, its spokesman said.
El Al Israel Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, flies four weekly flights to Mumbai but these take seven hours rather than five as they take a route south towards Ethiopia and then east to India, avoiding Saudi airspace.
El Al has asked an airline industry lobby group to help it access Saudi Arabian airspace, so it can compete with Air India’s planned route between India and Israel, Reuters reported on Thursday.