An Air India Airbus A320neo plane takes off in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, December 13, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU)
Air India will begin direct flights from Delhi to Tel Aviv via Saudi Arabia on Thursday, the first time ever the Saudis are allowing flights to or from Israel to use their airspace.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling this an “extraordinary diplomatic and economic achievement” that followed a great deal of diplomatic efforts led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who raised the issue with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, when the Indian leader was in Israel last year, and again when Netanyahu traveled to India in January.
The ministry said the expectation is that this will lead to other airlines flying to and from countries in Southeast Asia to also eventually get rights to fly directly to Israel over Persian Gulf states. A number of other airlines in the East have already shown interest in breaking into the Israeli market, such as Philippine Airlines and Australia’s national carrier Qantas, and the Air India precedent now may make that more probable.
The thrice weekly Air India flights will significantly reduce the cost and time it takes to fly between Israel and India.
The nonstop Air India round-trip flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv was listed on Orbitz on Wednesday night at $540, and the flight time was given as 7 hours and 15 minutes.
The next shortest flight was 11 hours on Turkish Airlines, which would cost $909 and necessitate a stopover in Istanbul.
An Aeroflot flight cost $660, but took 15 hours and 20 minutes and included a change of planes in Moscow.
El Al has direct flights to Mumbai, and the cheapest flight there cost $802 and took 7 hours, 55 minutes.
The Foreign Ministry statement said that in addition to the diplomatic significance of the new direct flights, they are expected to increase the flow of Indian tourists and businessmen to Israel and significantly increase Indian investment in the country.
According to Tourism Ministry figures, some 58,000 Indian tourists
came to Israel in 2017, a 47% increase from 2015. And just over 60,000 Israelis visited India last year, according to a report in January on the India Today television network. This represents a 20% increase from 2015.
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