Pilots hail 'historic flight'

First Israeli commercial flights enter Omani airspace, shortening trips to Far East

El Al planes cross Gulf sultanate’s territory en route to Thailand, days after country opened up for overflights from all countries, shaving some 2.5 hours off flight time

An illustrative photo of an El Al flight taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, outside Tel Aviv, October 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of an El Al flight taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, outside Tel Aviv, October 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

An El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Bangkok on Sunday night became the first Israeli airliner to cross over Oman’s airspace, three days after the Gulf sultanate made the long-awaited decision to allow overflights for aircraft from all countries, including the Jewish state.

The journey to the Thai capital, which usually took Israeli planes at least 10.5 hours, lasted just seven hours and 49 minutes, shortening the flight by some 2.5 hours, according to Israel’s national carrier.

It was followed two hours later by another El Al plane to Bangkok, with that journey taking eight hours and two minutes, according to a flight tracker website.

The same website showed two more flights planned for Monday night set to take the same route, while other flights were still expected to take the longer journey around the Arabian Peninsula.

In a video from the cockpit, the pilots of the first flight hailed the “historic flight” shortly before takeoff.

“We will fly over the Arabian Peninsula, over Oman, the Israeli flag will fly over Oman for the first time,” one of the pilots said. “Our flight will become shorter by two and a half hours, which is very significant. We are launching the fast line to Bangkok and to the Far East in general. We are very happy and excited to be here.”

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)

The Gulf sultanate announced on Thursday that it would open its airspace to all carriers, allowing Israeli civilian flights to cross its airspace.

“As part of the Sultanate of Oman’s continuous efforts to fulfill its obligations under the Chicago Convention of 1944, the Civil Aviation Authority affirms that the Sultanate’s airspace is open for all carriers that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflyuing [sic],” tweeted Oman’s CAA, not mentioning Israel by name.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message that the development could turn Israel into “the central transfer point between Asia and Europe.”

Netanyahu added that work on opening Oman’s skies began with his 2018 visit to Oman.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen called the move “a historic decision that will shorten the journey to Asia, lower costs for Israelis, and help Israeli companies be more competitive.”

He also thanked Oman’s ruler Haitham bin Tariq and the US government for their help in the months-long talks headed by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Last July, ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit, Saudi Arabia opened its skies to all commercial flights.

The development could potentially reduce ticket prices as well, given that airlines would save money on fuel.

This image made from video shows Oman’s new sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, taking part in a cannon-fire salute outside the Royal Family Council in Muscat, Oman, January 11, 2020. (Oman TV via AP)

Oman has long been floated as the next candidate to join the Abraham Accords. But late last year, its lower house of parliament voted to expand its Israel boycott law.

Assembly Vice-President Yaaqoub Al-Harethi explained that the amendment will “expand the criminalization and expand the boycott” of Israel, according to WAF news agency’s Twitter account.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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