Israel’s third-largest airline, Israir Airlines has already begun the process of obtaining a landing permit to operate direct flights between Tel Aviv and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) according to the airline’s chief executive. The move follows a historic deal between Israel and UAE announced last Thursday that will see the two sides normalise relations and establish a formal diplomatic dialogue.
Chief executive Uri Sirkis told Israeli state broadcaster Kan on Sunday that Dubai, in particular, was a “very, very attractive” destination, predicting the emirate would prove popular with Israeli tourists and business people.
The countries agreed to normalise relations after a joint deal with the United States saw Israel agree to stop any further annexation of Palestinian territory. Formal talks are set to get underway within days and delegations from Israel and the UAE will be shuttling between the two countries discussing various topics including the issue of direct flights.
The decision by the UAE to engage with Israel hasn’t, however, been without controversy. On Sunday, the UAE’s ministry of foreign affairs summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in Abu Dhabi to protest apparent threats made by Iran against the UAE. Palestinian authorities have also blasted the deal.
Direct flights, which should take less than four hours in either direction, also face another problem. Flights would have to pass through Saudi airspace and Israeli airlines are currently forbidden from flying over Saudi Arabia. During a briefing at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, was optimistic that Saudi authorities would open its air space to Israeli planes.
Emirati business people, though, are already said to be in talks with Israeli airlines over possible vacation packages according to local media reports. Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor who owns a slew of hotels and other businesses as part of the Al Habtoor Group is said to have been pushing for normalisation for years and is already discussing possible plans to kickstart tourism between the two countries.
Airlines in the UAE haven’t so far commented on the possibility of starting direct flights to Tel Aviv with neither Emirates nor national carrier Etihad Airways yet revealing any plans to add Israel to their route maps.
Tel Aviv mysteriously doesn’t even appear on Etihad’s in-flight moving map, which may go to show how much work there is still left to do.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.