JERUSALEM — Israel’s national carrier filed a lawsuit against the government on Wednesday for allowing Air India to fly over Saudi airspace on its New Delhi-Tel Aviv flights, a move El Al says puts it at an unfair disadvantage.
El Al claims that when it was privatized back in the 1990s, the Israeli government at the time pledged to “encourage fair and healthy competition” between Israeli airlines and their foreign competitors. This promise is now being undermined, El Al said.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have no diplomatic ties. The kingdom’s decision to allow the Indian carrier to fly through its airspace en route to Tel Aviv reflected a recent, behind-the-scenes warming of ties between the two countries.
But El Al says it has been harmed as a result. It currently has the only flights connecting Mumbai to Tel Aviv but is forced to bypass Saudi Arabia on that route. The new Air India route significantly shortens travel time and airfare costs.
El Al is asking that the Air India flights be halted until Israeli airlines are also allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia. The suit also names Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s transport minister, Yisrael Katz, and Air India.
The Israeli government has lauded the new Air India route from New Delhi to Tel Aviv as a symbol of tightening ties between the countries, as well as a harbinger of Israel’s improving status in the region. Israel says it has seen a 33 percent uptick this year in incoming tourism from India.
Netanyahu has said he sees “huge” potential for Israel from the flights over Saudi airspace with “long-term implications.”
The first flight Air India flight over Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states landed last week.