Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia granted Air India planes permission to fly through its airspace on their way to Israel. It was a historic first. No other commercial airline has been allowed to take this route to or from Israel so far.
Some welcomed this decision as a sign of improving relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. But Israel’s national airline, El Al, is not as thrilled. In fact, it’s suing the Israeli government, protesting that it still has to take longer routes in order to avoid Saudi airspace.
Air India completed its inaugural flight from New Delhi to Tel Aviv last week; the plane flew over Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Instead, El Al’s flights from Mumbai to Tel Aviv still have to fly via Ethiopia, a longer and more expensive route. El Al, concerned with the financial damage it was suffering, has petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to receive permission to take the Saudi shortcut.
Earlier in March, El Al sought help from the U.N. In a letter, the company’s CEO Gonen Usishkin wrote that “Air India will gain a significant and unfair advantage over El Al with respect to flights between Israel and India.” The CEO asked the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization to help his airline “procure equal permission for El Al to fly above Saudi Arabia.”
Simone Somekh is a New York-based author and journalist. He’s lived and worked in Italy, Israel, and the United States.