A spokesman for the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) in Saudi Arabia that the Authority did not grant any permission to fly Air India, Al Arabiya television reported.
Air India said on Wednesday it plans to begin direct flights to Israel and has proposed they pass through Saudi airspace, a route so far off-limits to Israel-bound commercial planes.
It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel as a state. An Air India spokesman and Israel’s Airports Authority said the state-run carrier had requested slots for three weekly flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. The Airports Authority said the service would begin in early March.
Air India was awaiting clearance from the Indian aviation regulator to fly over Saudi Arabia, the spokesman said.
However, Israeli media, in unsourced reports, said Riyadh had granted the necessary flyover rights, which would shorten the flight time from New Delhi by more than two hours.
El Al Israel Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, flies four weekly flights to Mumbai but these take seven hours rather than five as they take a route south toward Ethiopia and then east to India, avoiding Saudi airspace.
Israel’s Tourism Ministry said it will grant Air India 750,000 euros for flying the new route, as part of its policy of increasing the number of airlines flying to Israel.
Air India had made a similar request for slots to Israeli authorities last year but never followed through, after that circumventing Saudi airspace was not economically viable.
It is noteworthy that Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is in Riyadh for an official visit.