TEL AVIV — Saudi Arabia has granted its airspace for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel with the inauguration on Thursday of an Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.
Air India 139 landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport after a flight of over 7-1/2 hours, marking a diplomatic shift for Riyadh that Israel says was fueled by shared concern over Iranian influence in the region.
“This is a really historic day that follows two years of very, very intensive work,” Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said in a radio interview, adding that using Saudi airspace cut travel time to India by around two hours and would reduce ticket prices.
Saudi Arabia — birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest shrines — does not recognize Israel.
Riyadh has not formally confirmed granting the Air India plane overflight rights. While the move ended a 70-year-old ban on planes flying to or from Israel through Saudi airspace, there is as yet no indication that it will be applied for any Israeli airline.
The Air India Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner entered Saudi airspace at around 1645 GMT and overflew the kingdom at 40,000 feet for about three hours, coming within 60 km (37 miles) of the capital Riyadh, according to the Flightradar monitoring app. It then crossed over Jordan and the occupied West Bank into Israel.
The airliner had earlier flown over Oman, according to Flightradar. Officials from Oman, which also does not recognize Israel, could not be reached for comment.
Israel’s flag carrier El Al, excluded from the Saudi route, says its Indian competitor now has an unfair advantage.
El Al currently flies four times a week to the Indian city of Mumbai. Those flights take around 7 hours and 40 minutes, following a Red Sea route that swings toward Ethiopia to avoid Saudi airspace.
If El Al planes were to fly on to New Delhi, a destination El Al has said it might be interested in, they would require another two hours – and significantly more fuel.
Interviewed on Israel’s Army Radio, Levin voiced confidence that El Al would eventually be allowed to use Saudi airspace.
“You know, they said the Saudis wouldn’t let any flight pass. So here, the Saudis are permitting it. It is a process, I think. Ultimately this (El Al overflights) will happen too,” he said.Follow @gorkhapost
Russian rocket fails in the mid air, crew lands safely
COSMODROME—Booster rocket carrying a Soyuz spacecraft with a Russian and US astronaut on board headed for the International Space Station failed in mid-air on Thursday, forcing the crew to make an emergency landing.
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin landed safely without any harm.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, quoted by Interfax, said the problem occurred when the first and second stages of the booster rocket were in the process of separating.
The rocket was launched from the Soviet-era cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. A Reuters reporter who observed the launch from around 1 km away said that it had gone smoothly in its initial stage.
“Search and rescue teams are in the air and heading towards the expected touchdown location for the Soyuz spacecraft returning to Earth carrying two crew members,” NASA said in a statement.
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