Israeli airline Arkia has been forced to cancel its scheduled flights to India and other Asian countries due to Oman’s continued refusal to allow Israeli commercial aircraft to fly over its territory. This led to the airline having to apologize and refund customers.
Saudi Arabia recently granted Israeli airlines permission to fly through its airspace in August. Israeli airlines were happy to fly to Asia, and the East would benefit from reduced flight times and lower fuel consumption, as it would not have to fly over the Red Sea.
For years, Israel has been trying to get Saudi Arabia to grant overflight rights to its airlines. Historically, it secured them in August after negotiations mediated by the US. This also opened up new connections for Emirates, who now also serve Tel Aviv.
However, Oman has refused to give Israeli planes permission to fly through its airspace, creating a hurdle for Arkia’s plans to fly a shorter route to India and East Asian countries such as In. El Al flights to Asian destinations currently have to take a detour via the Red Sea. This continued Omani ban on Israeli flights over its territory caused Arkia serious losses and forced it to cancel scheduled flights and refund customers who had booked flights to Asia after Riyadh granted overflight permission. India and East Asian countries are popular holiday destinations for Israelis.
As of 2020, the Gulf states of the UAE and Bahrain have normalized relations with Israel, and there has been strong speculation that Saudi Arabia and Oman may follow suit. However, unlike other Gulf countries, Oman continues to cooperate closely with Iran and is believed to be under Iranian pressure behind its decision not to open its airspace to Israeli airlines.
With the lack of an agreement from Oman, which does not recognize Israel as a state, one wonders if Iran was exerting regional political pressure. Muscat proved to be a major obstacle without allowing travel through its airspace. Without the right to cross the airspace of Oman or Iran, the rights to fly over Saudi Arabia would be relatively insignificant for Israeli carriers and would not reduce their flight time to Asia. Israeli carriers can fly via Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain since the signing of the Abraham Accords.
Israel’s first-ever commercial flight over Saudi airspace to a non-Gulf destination departed on August 22, with the new route cutting the flight time by 20 minutes. Arkia Airlines flight IZ611 departed Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport at 1:15 a.m. and was scheduled to land in the Republic of Seychelles off the coast of East Africa six hours later.
Arkia flight IZ611 to Seychelles flies along the Saudi shores of the Red Sea, reducing travel time by 20 minutes; more significant route restrictions will require the use of Oman’s airspace.