JERUSALEM: Israeli airlines plan to expand and open new routes to India and other Asian destinations after Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to all carriers, a move that would save fuel costs and reduce flight times.
Riyadh on Friday (Jul 15) said its airspace would be open to all airlines - a de facto extension of flyover rights for Israeli planes, which previously had a Saudi corridor only for Gulf destinations such as to the United Arab Emirates, to include various Asia routes too.
Both flag carrier El Al Israel Airlines and smaller rival Arkia have already applied for permission to fly over Saudi airspace, they said on Sunday, which would cut about 2-1/2 hours from flights to India and Thailand.
Present routes to those destinations - which are popular with Israelis - bypass Saudi Arabia airspace by flying south over the Red Sea around Yemen.
Faster, more direct routes would also mean lower fuel burn. This in turn would help efficiency for El Al by allowing it to use smaller aircraft on its route to Mumbai while saving fuel on its nearly daily flights to Thailand, said Shlomi Am Shalom, an El Al official.
"We can take a big airplane and use it in other places like Australia and Japan," he said, adding flying to Melbourne and Tokyo were still in the planning stages and establishing those routes would take time.
Similarly, Arkia said it planned to start flights to Goa, India, in November and was considering new destinations such as Thailand and Sri Lanka using Airbus A321neoLR aircraft.
Israeli Tourism Minister Yoel Razbozov told Army Radio on Sunday that flights over Saudi Arabia would likely begin "in a few weeks" after necessary logistics were sorted out, and would eventually make airline tickets around 20 per cent cheaper.
The Israeli airlines, however, have been less explicit about a price drop.
An Israeli official said on Saturday he expected members of the country's Muslim minority to be able to fly directly to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage by next year.