Air India gets OK to fly to Israel via Saudi airspace

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's national carrier has secured permission to begin direct flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv that will pass through Saudi airspace, an official said Wednesday.

Air India spokesman Pravin Bhatnagar said the airline will start flying the route three times a week from March 22.

The move ends a decades-long ban by Saudi Arabia on the use of its airspace for flights to Israel.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have no formal diplomatic ties. The decision by Saudi Arabia to allow the Indian carrier to fly through its airspace to Tel Aviv reflects what is widely believed to be a warming of behind-the-scenes ties between the two countries.

Currently only the Israeli carrier El Al has flights that connect Mumbai to Tel Aviv.

The Air India flights will save flying time because of their shorter route.

El Al declined to comment on the news. The airline has reportedly objected to the Air India route, saying the shorter flights over Saudi Arabia put it at an unfair disadvantage.