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EL AL Celebrates Historic Opening of Oman Airspace

Oman will allow Israeli planes to fly through its airspace, cutting flight times between Israel and eastern destinations

by Matteo Legnani

February 27, 2023

Photo: EL AL, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Courtesy of Gail Hanusa / Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Israeli flag carrier, EL AL, celebrated the opening of the Omani airspace for its routes from Tel Aviv to Southeast Asia. As a result, the airline will no longer take a massive detour to avoid the formerly forbidden airspace.

For decades, EL AL’s flights leaving Tel Aviv and heading east could not follow the straightest route because they were banned from several airspaces belonging to some Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia and Oman. Instead, the airline had to proceed south over Jordan and overfly the Red Sea to the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula before heading northeast toward their destinations.

The airline’s first flight to Bangkok through Omani airspace was celebrated by the airline’s pilots. “We are currently in the final preparations for our historic flight to Bangkok. We will fly over Oman, the Israeli flag will fly over Oman for the first time. Our flight time will be shortened by two and a half hours, which is very significant. We are very happy and excited to be here. Thank you,” announced the captain to his passengers on this momentous occasion.

Before the airspace opening, the airline’s non-stop service to Bangkok took 10 hours and 45 minutes. But flying to the same destination on Royal Jordanian from Amman—a mere 100 miles east of Tel Aviv—takes only 8 hours and 10 minutes, or two hours and a half less.

Opening Frontiers for EL AL

In July 2022, Saudi Arabia lifted the ban. It took six months for Oman to follow suit. Finally, on February 13, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Sultanate announced the opening of its airspace “to all carriers which meet the requirements of the Authority,” effectively terminating the ban on El Al, Arkia, and Israir.

An official tweet said the move was “part of the Sultanate of Oman’s continuous efforts to fulfill its obligations under the Chicago Convention of 1944, which stipulates non-discrimination between civil aircraft used in international air navigation”.

EL AL posted an image showing the different paths of the old and new routes towards India and South East Asia: the first one ran all over the Red Sea and the strait of Bab Al Mandab before veering east, passing south of the Yemenite Island of Socotra and finally heading towards India.

Photo: Courtesy of EL AL

The second route flies through Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf (south of the still-forbidden Iranian airspace), and then proceeds over eastern Oman towards India and beyond.

The new routing is expected to start in the next few days, resulting in quicker flight times on EL AL services linking Tel Aviv with Asia.

Likewise, reaching Phuket from Tel Aviv should now take around nine hours instead of eleven and a half hours.

The Israeli flag carrier has not been the only victim of an air blockade. From June 2017 to January 2021, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, and Egypt cut ties with Qatar over accusations it supported terrorism and prohibited its airline from overflying them. The ban cost Qatar Airways billions, as it had to cancel 18 destinations from its network for three and a half years, while services to Africa and South America required up to three hours more than normal.