Israeli flag carrier El Al is believed to have applied for permission to fly through Saudi Arabian airspace ahead of the first-ever commercial flight by an Israeli carrier to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The historic flight will carry an Israeli delegation and top aides from the Trump administration including the U.S. President’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
El Al flight LY971 will depart Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday – the flight number is a nod to the UAE’s international telephone code. The return flight, scheduled to leave Abu Dhabi the next day will bear the flight number LY972, which is Israel’s international telephone code.
Although Israeli politicians have described the historic flight as a ‘commercial’ service, tickets aren’t actually available. Nonetheless, the fact that the flight is going ahead at all is a landmark moment in relations between the two countries.
It follows the decision by the UAE and Israel to ‘normalize’ relations earlier this month in a deal that was brokered by the United States. To secure the deal Israel agreed to stop any further annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank. Talks to formalise diplomatic relations will continue over the coming weeks and months.
One area of talks that has received a significant amount of interest is the possibility of starting up direct flights between the countries for tourism and business. Israel’s third-largest airline, Israir Airlines says it has already started the application process to obtain a UAE landing permit.
The airline’s chief executive Uri Sirkis told Israeli state broadcaster Kan that Dubai, in particular, was a “very, very attractive” destination.
And the chief operating officer of Emirates says the Dubai-based airline could be interested in flying direct to Tel Aviv. “No question about it, airlines from both sides will want to examine the opportunity,” Adel Al Redha said in an interview about the possibility last week.
But a direct route between Israel and the UAE would require flights to route through Saudi airspace – at present, Israeli-registered aircraft are banned from flying over Saudi Arabia, although Air India was recently given permission to fly through Saudi airspace for its direct flights to Tel Aviv.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the request for El Al to utilise Saudi airspace had to be passed via third party mediators. A decision had not yet been made as of Saturday evening.
On Saturday, the UAE abolished the Israel Boycott Law allowing companies to do business with Israelis for the first time. The official WAM news agency said President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued the decree “as part of the UAE’s efforts to expand diplomatic and commercial cooperation with Israel.”
In May, Etihad Airways made what is believed to be the first flight by a commercial airline between the UAE and Israel in order to deliver medical supplies and other cargo for the Palestinian’s. No passengers were onboard the flight. A second delivery of cargo was delivered by Etihad in June.
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.