El Al stops flying over Oman as war-time precaution, prolonging journey to East Asia

Airline tells passengers flight time has increased by 3 hours, due to security considerations; says it is seeking new route through Omani airspace, presumably further from Iran

File: El Al airplanes on the tarmac at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, October 4, 2022. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
File: El Al airplanes on the tarmac at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, October 4, 2022. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

El Al, Israel’s flag carrier airline, has paused flying over Oman on its flights to southeast Asia, significantly lengthening the journey time.

A decision to adjust the route was taken after coordination with relevant security officials and the Civil Aviation Authority, the airline told passengers booked on flights in the coming days, without giving further details.

An El Al spokesperson confirmed the development to Reuters on Monday, stressing there was no specific threat to aircraft and that the carrier initiated the change.

The spokesperson said El Al has asked Omani officials to approve a new route over the country, presumably one that passes farther away from neighboring Iran.

It came as war rages between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught that killed over 1,400 people in a devastating attack on Israel earlier this month.

Without traversing Oman, flights from Tel Aviv to Bangkok will be forced to go north of Syria and Iran, taking 11.5 hours instead of 8.5 hours, as was the situation until earlier this year.

Passengers booked on flights to Thailand in the coming week received a notification from El Al that the flight time had changed.

The message, reported by Hebrew media, said: “Due to the security situation, El Al is working in coordination with the authorized security officials and the Civil Aviation Authority, and is making changes and adjustments to flight routes.”

A flight tracker map of the El Al 83 flight from Tel Aviv to Bangkok on February 26, 2023, the first Israeli airliner to cross over Oman’s airspace. (Screenshot: flightaware.com; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

El Al flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates will continue to use Saudi airspace, without having to cross Oman, reports said.

In July 2022, the Saudis permitted Israeli commercial aircraft to fly through their airspace to the UAE, enabling a shorter route to East Asia by making a stop in the Gulf nation that normalized ties with Jerusalem in 2020. When Oman in February 2023 also permitted Israeli airliners to use its airspace, a shorter route opened up for direct flights from Israel, heading southeast across Saudi Arabia and then east across Oman, slicing around three hours off the flight time to Bangkok.

The first commercial Israeli flight over Saudi Arabia and Oman to Thailand was in February 2023.

According to Ynet, El Al recently moved some of its planes to Ramon Airport in the south of the country. In coordination with security officials, El Al keeps at least three of its planes at Ramon at all times. The outlet did not explain the purpose of the arrangement.

Israel does not have diplomatic relations with either Saudi Arabia or Oman, but the US was pushing for a normalization deal with Riyadh before October 7, while Oman was also considered a contender for such an agreement.

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