Philippine Airlines Seeking Saudi Shortcut to Israel

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters/Hamodia) -
philippine airlines
The entrance to the Philippine Airlines head office at the PNB Financial Headquarters along Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City. (Lawrence Ruiz)

If Philippine Airlines gets an overflight permit, which would save on flight time and costs, it could launch direct service to Tel Aviv within six months, airline president Jaime Bautista said on Wednesday.

“The Civil Aeronautics Board wrote to Saudi authorities asking for overflight [rights],” Bautista told Reuters. “A letter was sent in October.”

Last March, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel for an Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.

Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, and the move ended a 70-year-old ban, marking a diplomatic shift as Israel attempts to reach out to Gulf Arab states that share its concern over Iran’s regional activities.

There is no indication any Israeli airline will be granted similar rights.

Israel’s flag carrier El Al, which must take more circuitous paths to avoid Saudi Arabia, has asked the International Air Transport Association, an airline industry lobby group, to help it gain access to Saudi airspace.

Direct Philippines-Israel flights would be welcomed by the thousands of Filipinos employed as care workers in Israel, and by tourists heading in either direction. The number of tourists visiting Israel from the Philippines rose by 61 percent in 2017, and tourism in the other direction rose by 42 percent in 2016.

Philippines’ Department of Transportation Undersecretary Antonio Tamayo told reporters last month that his country has landing rights as far as Israel is concerned.

“This is the result of the visit of the [Philippines] president to Israel [in September],” he said.

Failure to secure a permit from Saudi Arabia would add more than an hour to the flight time, he said.

Officials at Israel’s Tourism and Transportation ministries were not immediately available for comment.

Philippine Transportation Undersecretary Manuel Tamayo said, “We have rights already as far as Israel is concerned. Hopefully, we should get to overfly Saudi Arabia to Israel. So we’re pushing for the signing of the overfly agreement by this quarter, as Israel is a seasonal market. Most passengers would like to travel there during the cold months,” Globes quoted him as saying.