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Israel and UAE to Sign Bilateral Air Agreement in Days But Direct Flights Will Have to Wait

Israel and UAE to Sign Bilateral Air Agreement in Days But Direct Flights Will Have to Wait

An air services agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is “more or less ready” and could be signed within the next few days a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday. Direct flights between the two countries, however, may have to wait until January 1, 2021, at the earliest as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on airline schedules and Israel navigates its self through a second national lockdown.

Israel and the UAE agreed to normalize relations a couple of months ago in a landmark deal brokered by the United States of America. The first flight by a commercial Israeli airliner between the two countries touched down in Abu Dhabi on August 31 after a three-hour flight from Tel Aviv with a delegation of Israeli and U.S. diplomats onboard.

One of the most keenly followed aspects of the deal is an air services agreement that would open up regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two countries. Budget carrier Israir has been actively pursuing landing rights to operate flights to Dubai, while both Emirates and Etihad have shown interest in opening routes.

Israeli flag carrier El Al would also likely link Tel Aviv with the UAE and flydubai is also looking to open up new routes to Israel.

Ofer Malka, director-general of Israel’s Transportation Ministry said an air services agreement was “more or less ready, and we will sign it in the coming days” during an interview on Tuesday. An Israeli delegation is set to fly to Abu Dhabi again on October 18 when the agreement might be signed.

El Al is set to fly the delegation out to Abu Dhabi, while Etihad is expected to operate the return flight to Tel Aviv. If that happens, it will be the first time a UAE-registered airliner has flown passengers between the two cities. Etihad flew two humanitarian cargo services to Israel earlier this year in what is believed to be the first direct flight by a commercial airline from the UAE to Israel.

But while the agreement is ready to signed, new route announcements might still be months away. Several days ago, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Deputy Mayor of East Jerusalem said the target date for direct flights had been pushed from an early as this month to January 1, 2020.

Making the flights possible is a decision by Saudi authorities to allow any flight to the UAE to pass through Saudi Arabian airspace. Once Coronavirus-related lockdowns are eased, the likes of Emirates and Etihad are set to benefit the most from the air services agreement.