Saudi airline cancels contract after plane taken to Israel

State-owned airline ends deal with Portuguese leasing firm after jetliner seen getting maintenance at Ben Gurion airport

A Saudi Arabian Airlines plane in Paris in 2011 (photo credit: CC BY Wikipedia)
A Saudi Arabian Airlines plane in Paris in 2011 (photo credit: CC BY Wikipedia)

Saudi Arabian Airlines canceled a contract with a Portuguese company for taking an off-duty airliner with Saudi Arabian Airlines branding for maintenance at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel, a Saudi newspaper reported Sunday.

Last week, footage surfaced on social networking sites of the aircraft on the tarmac in Israel.

The plane was taken to Israel on Wednesday for routine maintenance by Hi Fly, a Lisbon-based airplane leasing company.

According to Arab News, the airline, the Saudi government-owned Saudia, canceled the contract after the plane aroused a firestorm among Israel’s curious media.

“The company had been given a contract for air transport to provide Saudia with planes for commercial operations,” a statement by Saudia said.

“The plane was off duty and under the management of the holding company at the time when it left Saudi Arabia on Sunday, May 3, for Brussels, Belgium, for routine maintenance,” the airline said.

Saudi Arabia has no official ties with Israel and has been among the leaders of the Arab boycott of the country since the 1970s.

According to Saudia, by taking the plane to Tel Aviv, Hi Fly had committed a blatant violation of the contract, which mandates that the leasing company obtain written approval mentioning the airports where it is to land or undergo routine maintenance.

“Such landing or operation process should take place in a country that shares diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to enable Saudia staff and the Civil Aviation authority to conduct inspection and follow up on the maintenance operation at any time,” Arab News quoted from Hi Fly’s contract with the Saudi carrier.

The aircraft, an Airbus A330, arrived from Brussels with no passengers on board, according to a report in Ynet news Wednesday.

The aircraft is owned by a European company and leased to Saudia — Saudi Arabia’s government-owned national airline.

As per the directions of the company, the plane landed in Israel for routine upkeep by Bedek, an Israeli company contracted by Israel Aircraft Industries.

An IAI spokesperson confirmed the plane’s arrival on Wednesday and said that the “ongoing and routine maintenance” of the Airbus passenger plane was part of the services Ben-Gurion provided to the aircraft manufacturer.

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