Air India denies getting approval for flights to Israel over Saudi Arabia

Hours after Netanyahu claims deal reached, spokesman tells Times of Israel airline still awaiting okay for Delhi-Tel Aviv route over Saudi airspace

In this Sept. 28, 2009 file photo, Air India passenger jets are parked in the background of slums adjoining the international airport in Mumbai, India.(AP Photo/Dhiraj Singh)
In this Sept. 28, 2009 file photo, Air India passenger jets are parked in the background of slums adjoining the international airport in Mumbai, India.(AP Photo/Dhiraj Singh)

India’s flagship airline said Tuesday it had not received approval for direct flights to Israel over Saudi airspace, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters an agreement for such a route had been reached.

“We have not received any confirmation. We have only submitted our request for a flight. We have yet to receive anything from authorities,” Air India spokesman Praveen Bhatnagar told The Times of Israel.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, Netanyahu told reporters that Saudi Arabia has given Air India approval to fly through its airspace on flights between Israel and India.

The agreement would shorten the flight path by some two hours and mark a significant achievement as Jerusalem attempts to upgrade its relationship with Riyadh.

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Narendra Modi get ready to hug in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. Avi Ohayon/GPO)

“Air India signed an agreement today to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia,” the Israeli premier said during a briefing at the Blair House in Washington, DC, emphasizing that the flight to and from India would take the same length of time as flights between London and Tel Aviv, some five and a half hours.

Saudi Arabia has not commented on the report.

Bhatnagar said it was possible an agreement had been reached with another authority, but said Air India was not aware of such a deal.

“We are hopeful to get approval soon,” he said.

He said the airline had submitted paperwork for a direct flight between Delhi and Tel Aviv, but the details had yet to be worked out.

Currently, El Al is the only airline offering direct flights from Israel to India, with a Tel Aviv-Mumbai route. In order to avoid Saudi Arabia, which has hitherto forbidden flights to and from Israel over its airspace, the plane must detour over the Red Sea and around the Arabian peninsula, adding over two hours to the journey.

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In February, reports citing Israeli officials claimed an agreement had been reached, but the claim was swiftly denied by Riyadh.

Reuters reported last week that El Al was seeking help from the international community to fly through Saudi airspace as well.

Israel does not have diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, but it has been a known secret that the two nations have been working covertly on their shared security concerns regarding Iran in the wake of the 2015 nuclear accord, which both governments’ strongly opposed.

Netanyahu told business leaders while in India in January that an “efficient and direct route” between the countries was an important goal.

Raoul Wootliff, Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.

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