Philippine Airlines seeking to use Saudi airspace for Israel-bound flights
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Philippine Airlines seeking to use Saudi airspace for Israel-bound flights

Head of country’s flag carrier says airline could launch direct Manila-Tel Aviv flights if it gets overflight rights from Riyadh

Philippine Airlines passenger planes are parked at the carrier's terminal at the Manila International Airport on April 12, 2012, in Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Philippine Airlines passenger planes are parked at the carrier's terminal at the Manila International Airport on April 12, 2012, in Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

The Philippines has asked Saudi Arabia to grant its flag carrier permission to use the Gulf kingdom’s airspace when flying to Israel, the head of the airline said Wednesday.

Philippine Airlines President Jaime Bautista told Reuters that the carrier could launch direct flights to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport within six months if its receives permission to use Saudi airspace.

Bautista said the Philippines Civil Aeronautics Board sent a letter to Saudi authorities in October requesting overflight rights.

If granted, Philippine Airlines would become just the second carrier to receive permission to traverse Saudi airspace en route to Israel, after Air India was given overflight rights in March.

Manuel Tamayo, the undersecretary for aviation at the Philippines Department of Transportation, told the country’s Inquirer newspaper that direct flights would help boost trade and tourism ties between Manila and Jerusalem.

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem during Duterte’s official visit to Israel, September 3, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/Pool)

A decision by Saudi Arabia to grant Philippine Airlines overflight permission would likely draw protests from El Al, Israel’s flag carrier.

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

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

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