The first-ever scheduled commercial flight to Israel from Abu Dhabi departed on Tuesday.
Etihad Airways Flight EY598, which took three hours and 20 minutes, was the first of the United Arab Emirates’ second-largest flag carrier’s planned regular flights between the Emirati capital and Tel Aviv.
The flight was received in Ben-Gurion Airport by a water-cannon salute, and a welcome reception was held soon after.
Aboard the flight were Israeli Ambassador to the UAE Eitan Na’eh and UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja, as well as Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas and a delegation of UAE tourism and hospitality operators.
The flight was “a hugely significant moment in Etihad’s history,” and “we are tremendously excited about the opportunities this poses to Etihad and our home, Abu Dhabi,” Douglas said.
Na’eh said he was “overwhelmed by emotions while on board the first flight inaugurated by the UAE’s Etihad Airways between Abu Dhabi and Israel.”
“This is an additional chapter in the historic fabric of the growing relations between the two countries,” he tweeted in Arabic.
The business and first-class sections on the plane were mostly full, but there were few passengers in coach, Emirati news site The National reported. Israel is still closed to tourists, but Israelis may visit Abu Dhabi without quarantining upon arrival or return.
All passengers and crew on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner were vaccinated against or had recovered from COVID-19. Passengers traveling with Etihad will also receive complimentary COVID-19 insurance, which was recently extended until September 30.
مع سعادة السفير محمد الخاجة والسيد توني دوجلاس الرئيس التنفيذي لمجموعة الاتحاد للطيران والكابتن سليمان اليعقوبي نائب الرئيس لشؤون العمليات في اول رحلة تجارية بين أبوظبي وتل أبيب. pic.twitter.com/wlXCZnOSGN— Abdulla (@uae_6t) April 6, 2021
The passengers were given a certificate commemorating the first Etihad scheduled commercial flight to Tel Aviv.
The launch of the new route follows the Abraham Accords, the peace and normalization agreement the UAE and Israel signed in September. It has led to the burgeoning of security, trade and political ties, including the opening of travel.
Several airlines offered flights to Dubai, the largest city in the UAE, which is about a 90-minute drive from Abu Dhabi, before airport closures began earlier this year.
In October, Etihad launched a new Hebrew-language website for Israeli customers seeking to visit the UAE. It also landed its first plane in Israel with a special flight bringing a trade mission of tourism industry leaders, corporate decision-makers, travel agents, cargo agents and media representatives.
Also Tuesday, WAM, the official news agency of the UAE, launched a news service in Hebrew, which will focus on progress in bilateral ties between Israel and the UAE.
Zev Stub contributed to this report.