Air India has delayed the launch of its direct flight between New Delhi and Tel Aviv as several countries, including some in West Asia, have denied it overflight permission.
The airline had planned to launch the flight this month in the run-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, expected in July. It will be the first visit to Israel by an Indian Prime Minister.
Multiple officials confirmed to BusinessLine that the launch of the direct service has been delayed as the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, among others, have declined permission for the state-owned carrier to overfly their air space en route to Israel.
Globally, an airline seeks overflight permission from countries on the route so that the aircraft gets smooth hand-holding from air traffic controllers in these countries. However, the strains in relations between Israel and its West Asian neighbours appear to have impeded the launch of Air India’s service.
Flying over West Asia is the shortest route between India and Israel. Air India examined the possibility of operating its Tel Aviv service by flying over Europe, but that plan was dropped as it would have increased the flying time and skewed the economics of the flight.
Owing to similar denial of overflight rights by some states, the Israeli national carrier’s flight from Tel Aviv to Mumbai takes about eight hours, an industry watcher said.
However, Air India officials maintained that the Tel Aviv service had not yet been put in their booking system, which would have allowed travel agents, tour operators and passengers to make bookings.
In March, Air India CMD Ashwani Lohani had been quoted as saying that Air India hoped to start a direct flight between India and Israel in the next few months. He indicated that the launch of the flight would boost tourist traffic between the two countries.