Air India has announced its intention to serve Tel Aviv.  The growing relations between Israel and India are driving the need for direct air service.

What is key to the service is that Air India has been granted permission to overfly Saudi Arabia, offering a more direct and economically logical routing.  This is no small matter. El Al’s own service takes two hours longer because it does not have the ability to fly this routing.

El Al is keenly aware what these two hours mean to their own service.  High-value traffic will go for the shorter flight.  So they are asking for the same routing.  Saudi Arabia has no (official) ties with Israel, so Israel’s national carrier El Al is forced to detour over the Red Sea on its India service to avoid Saudi and Iranian airspace. So ElAl recently approached the International Civil Aviation Authority asking for its help in also getting permission to fly to India via Saudi airspace.

It is not clear what happens next.  These are very significant steps.  The default position would be that the Saudi’s refuse the ElAl request.  These days they cannot say no and then quietly let it happen. Flight tracking programs would show these flights up immediately.   Allowing these flights send a crucial signal that the ice has cracked officially.  Bear in mind Saudi Arabia (and several friends) already blockade Qatar’s flights.

Can ICAO help to break up these maddening political positions and allow airlines to be regarded as a business rather than arms of states, even if some are state-owned?

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