How will flights over Saudi Arabia affect Israeli airlines, consumers?

If indeed Saudi Arabia will make the announcement, it would allow Israeli airlines, such as El Al, to fly from Israel to India in just 5.5 hours, instead of the current 8-hour flight.

EL AL – THEY ARE prickly on the outside... but they have a heart of gold. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
EL AL – THEY ARE prickly on the outside... but they have a heart of gold.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden is expected to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday afternoon, and a major element of his visit is to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia closer together. It was widely reported that during the visit, Saudi Arabia is expected to announce that it will allow expanded permission for Israeli airlines to fly over Saudi soil to Asian destinations.

Israel is set to agree to new security arrangements allowing Egypt to transfer control of two islands in the Straits of Tiran to Saudi Arabia, in return, Saudi Arabia will reportedly allow Israeli airlines to fly over its airspace. Currently, only Israeli flights to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain can fly over Saudi Arabia, as well as Air India flights to and from Israel.

On Saturday, Biden wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post that his direct flight from Israel to Saudi Arabia would be a small symbol of “budding relations and steps toward normalization” between Israel and the Arab world.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister, Esawi Freij, asked Saudi Arabia to allow Muslims to take direct flights from Israel so they can make their Muslim Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca without having to take two flights.

“I want to see the day when I can depart from Ben-Gurion (airport near Tel Aviv) to Jeddah to fulfill my religious obligation,” said Freij.

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Possible developments

If indeed Saudi Arabia will make the announcement, it would allow Israeli airlines, such as El Al, to fly from Israel to India in just 5.5 hours, instead of the current 8-hour flight.

In addition, it would open the possibility for Israel to sign new bilateral agreements to routes that do not yet exist, such as direct flights from Israel to Australia. Since the Abraham Accords were signed in 2020, Israeli companies are allowed to fly over the Saudi Arabia when they fly to the UAE or Bahrain – but not to fly directly from Israel to other destinations such as India and Thailand.

"I want to see the day when I can depart from Ben-Gurion Airport to Jeddah to fulfill my religious obligation"

Esawi Freij

An El Al executive said that there is commercial demand for direct flights to Australia given the sizable Jewish community in the country and the mutual business opportunities in both countries. They added that opening the Saudi airspace would shorten flight duration, and would reduce the prices of tickets to India, Thailand and the Far East, which are considered to be very popular among Israeli travelers. “A shorter flight duration means a cheaper ticket, of course,” the executive said. “Opening the airspace would be significant and greatly welcomed news for Israeli tourists.”

Reuters and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.