An Air India Airbus A320neo plane takes off in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, December 13, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU)
WASHINGTON – When Air India begins direct flights from New Delhi to Tel Aviv in the coming weeks, it will take about as long to fly to the Indian capital as it currently takes to fly to London, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
At a briefing with reporters after his meeting with US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu said that Air India signed an agreement that day enabling the flights to and from Israel over Saudi Arabia.
Up until now the Saudis have not allowed planes either bound to or coming from Israeli to overfly their territory, something that has added hours and expense to flights between Tel Aviv and the East.
The route over Saudi Arabia will cut down the flying time to India from some eight hours to about five and a half.
Netanyahu said that the Saudis did not grant overfly permission to El Al, which operates four weekly flights to Mumbai. Since its flights will now take longer and be more expensive than the competition, as the planes will consume more fuel, he is in talks with the national carrier to ensure that it does not get hurt financially. He did not elaborate, thought it seems he was hinting at subsidies.
If the flights over Saudi Arabia do indeed materialize, it would be a small step toward normalized interactions between the two countries, would mark a significant departure from past Saudi policies, and come amid a steady stream of reports of security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as with some of the other Persian Gulf states.
When reports of direct India to Israel over Saudi Arabia emerged in February, the Saudis quickly denied them. Reuters reported that there was no immediate confirmation from either Saudi officials or Air India on Monday about the new, direct route.