El Al Sues State Over Air India Saudi Route Flights

El Al Airline planes lined up at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

El Al on Wednesday filed a petition with the High Court seeking to force the state, the Transport Ministry and the Airports Authority to withdraw the license granted to Air India for its flights from New Delhi, which pass over Saudi Arabia – unless it could be arranged for El Al flights to Mumbai to fly over that country as well. In its petition, El Al said that it was being “discriminated” against, and that the state was allowing that discrimination to take place.

“The state has agreed to something unprecedented, agreeing to allow a foreign carrier to use a route that its own national carrier cannot,” the El Al petition says. “This not only violates promises made by the government to our company, it is also discriminatory, forcing our customers to fly a lengthier route. We too want to fly over Saudi Arabia. There is no precedent for this situation anywhere in the world.”

The Airports Authority is also specified as a target of the petition for granting a license to Air India to land planes that use the Saudi route. “This situation weakens the principle of equality that should rule in relations between Israel and India,” the petition says. “We have an obligation to our passengers and employees, and we are facing a situation in which we are being discriminated against, with no possibility of competing.”

The inaugural New Delhi-Tel Aviv Air India flight landed in Israel last Thursday, and was greeted by a host of dignitaries, including Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, both of whom praised the new route. Speaking at the airport, Katz said that “we are celebrating the growing closer ties between Israel and India, and our first civilian connection with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. When we entered into Open Skies agreements with European countries to increase the number of flights between Israel and that continent, we never dreamed that we would have any such policies with Arab countries, but here we see the landing of the New Delhi flight. Our next important step in this process will be the establishment of the ‘rails of peace’ project, which will connect Haifa Port with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. This will be a great boon for the region, and the economy of Israel.”

Levin said that “I am happy that the great efforts we put into making this happen with Air India over the past two years are paying off. The new route will increase the number of tourists from India, which has been growing significantly. The opening of this route is the latest example of the impact of the marketing policies of the Tourism Ministry, which has brought tourism to Israel to an all-time high.”

Tourism to Israel hit an all-time high in 2017, reaching 3.6 million tourists and earning the country over NIS 20 billion – a 25 percent increase over the 2016 numbers.

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