The Israeli government has hailed Air India’s new nonstop service from New Delhi to Tel Aviv as a historic breakthrough — the Indian carrier is the first commercial airline to take a geopolitical shortcut through Saudi Arabian airspace.
But Israel’s national airline, El Al, still has to take the long way and fears that it will suffer serious financial damage from what it views as aerial discrimination.
So in a first of its own, El Al petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, filing suit against the government; the Civil Aviation Authority; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the transportation minister, Yisrael Katz; and Air India.
Flying in a straight line cuts more than two hours off the usual flight time, and allows Air India to lower its ticket price. Even though Saudi Arabia granted permission for the route, El Al is asking the Israeli court to prevent Air India from taking the shorter path unless the Israeli carrier
receives a similar permit.
The dispute was touched off by Air India’s inaugural flight last week from New Delhi. As is the case with most of its neighbors in the Middle East, Israel does not have formal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis have for decades banned jets traveling to or from Israel from crossing their airspace.