Israeli airline Arkia has been forced to cancel its planned flights to India and other Asian countries due to a continued refusal by Oman to let Israeli commercial planes fly over its territory. This has led to the airline requiring to apologize to customers and provide refunds.
Saudi Arabia recently granted permission to Israeli airlines to fly through its airspace in August. Israeli airlines rejoiced as flights to Asia, and the East would benefit from shortened flight times and lower fuel consumption by avoiding needing to route over the Red Sea.
Israel has attempted for years for Saudi Arabia to grant its airlines overflight rights. It historically secured them in August following negotiations mediated by the US. This has also opened up new connections for the likes of Emirates, who also now service Tel Aviv.
Oman has continued to say no
However, Oman has refused to give Israeli planes authority to fly through its airspace, creating a barrier for Arkia’s plans to fly a shorter route to India and east Asian countries such as In. El Al’s flights currently bound for Asian destinations currently have to fly a detour over the Red Sea. This continued Omani ban on Israeli flights over its territory has caused severe losses for Arkia, forcing it to cancel planned flights and return money to customers who reserved flights to Asia after Riyadh granted overflight permission. India and Eastern Asian countries are popular vacation spots for Israelis.
Since 2020, the Gulf states of the UAE and Bahrain have normalized relations with Israel, and there has been strong speculation that Saudi Arabia and Oman may also follow suit. However, unlike other Gulf countries, Oman has continued close ties with Iran, and it is believed that Iranian pressure is behind its decision not to open its airspace to Israeli airlines.
With the lack of agreement from Oman, which does not recognize Israel as a state, one can wonder if Iran has exerted political pressure regionally. Muscat has proved a major obstacle without allowing travel through its airspace. Without the right to cross either Omani or Iranian airspace, Saudi overflight rights would be relatively insignificant to Israeli carriers and would not shorten their flight times to Asia. Israeli carriers have been allowed to fly via Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain since the signing of the Abraham Accords.
First flight over Saudi airspace
The first-ever Israeli commercial flight over Saudi airspace to a non-Gulf destination departed on August 22nd, with the new route shortening the duration of the flight by 20 minutes. Arkia Airlines flight IZ611 departed Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport after 1:15 a.m. and was scheduled to land in the Republic of Seychelles off the coast of East Africa six hours later.
Arkia flight IZ611 to Seychelles flies along Saudi’s Red Sea shores, reducing travel time by 20 minutes; more substantial reductions to routes will require the use of Oman’s airspace.
Sources: The Times of Israel, ch-aviation, JPost, The New Arab