High Court said to advise El Al to drop suit over Saudi route to India
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High Court said to advise El Al to drop suit over Saudi route to India

Israeli carrier claims Air India given unfair competitive advantage by being allowed to use Saudi airspace when El Al can't

A Boeing 787 flight number AI139 of Indian national carrier Air India, from New Delhi, performs maneuvers on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, on March 22, 2018 after using Saudi airspace for the first time. (AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)
A Boeing 787 flight number AI139 of Indian national carrier Air India, from New Delhi, performs maneuvers on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, on March 22, 2018 after using Saudi airspace for the first time. (AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)

The High Court of Justice has reportedly advised Israel’s national airline El Al to drop legal action against the state over its decision to allow Air India to fly over Saudi airspace on its new route to Tel Aviv.

The court urged El Al to drop the petition it filed earlier this year, the Calcalist business daily said Sunday, and gave the airline a week to respond to the request.

In March, El Al filed an urgent petition to the High Court against the government, Transportation Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority, claiming that granting the Indian airline permission to fly the route, which goes over Saudi Arabia — significantly reducing the cost and flight time on the New Delhi-Tel Aviv route — gave a foreign company an unfair competitive advantage and violated the state’s commitment to Israel’s national carrier.

The petition was filed days after Air India’s inaugural Tel Aviv-New Delhi flight landed in Ben Gurion Airport amid great fanfare. Flight AI 139 was the first plane headed toward Israel that flew over Saudi Arabia and Oman, two Arab states that have no diplomatic relations with Israel, and was hailed as “historic” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.

Saudi Arabia granting Air India permission to use their air space was one of the most visible signs of the growing cooperation between Israel and the Gulf Arab states.

But El Al argued that allowing Air India to cross over airspace that is closed to Israeli-owned airlines violated the 1944 ​Convention on International Civil Aviation, as well as various Israeli government decisions.

The airline noted in its petition that in a December 1994 decision to privatize El Al, the government said that Israeli civil aviation policy must ensure “equal opportunities between Israeli airlines and foreign airlines on a competitive basis” and ensure “sound and fair competition.”

Illustrative: Air India planes parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

The airline also argued that the new route also violates a bilateral agreement Jerusalem and Delhi signed in 2016, that obliges Israel to allow El Al “an equal and fair opportunity” to operate the flight route between Israel and India.

El Al’s vice president for Commercial and Industry Affairs Michael Strassburger told The Times of Israel in March the new status quo could cause the airline financial damage.

“We’re a private company, sure, but the reason we’re prevented from flying over Saudi Arabia is because we’re told not to fly over Saudi Arabia by our government,” Strassburger said. “It’s not our decision to make this detour. We don’t have another option, it’s the only choice we have.”

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