El Al Turns to High Court for Saudi Access

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

As Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel, El Al will take its own fight for access to Saudi airspace to the High Court in Israel, officials said on Friday.

Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and flag carrier El Al must take a more circuitous path to avoid Saudi Arabia, which can add hours to flight times.

El Al has asked an airline industry lobby group, the International Air Transport Association, to help it access Saudi airspace.

It has also accused its own government, which approved Air India’s new route, of putting it at a disadvantage.

“Such approval, which was granted by the state of Israel, gives a significant and unfair advantage to a foreign airline and is contrary to any principle of reciprocity in the world of international aviation,” the company said in a statement.

The court appeal will come early next week, according to one source familiar with the matter. A spokeswoman for El Al confirmed the company intends to bring its complaint to the Court, but would not give any further details.

Though he did not mention El Al by name, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared “the goal that I hope we set for ourselves is that the next flight or flights will also include direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai in five hours, less time than Tel Aviv to London. The significance of that would be enormous.”

Israel’s Tourism Minister on Thursday called the maiden Air India flight a diplomatic achievement and said he has been in negotiations to open similar flights with Singapore Airlines and a carrier from the Philippines, which he did not name.

Singapore Airlines told Reuters it is not currently considering services to Israel.

A spokesperson for Philippine Airlines said the company was not in any talks to launch a flight.

“We are studying it, but not in the near future,” the spokesperson said.