File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )
Air India will introduce thrice-a-week flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv from March 22, the airline said on Wednesday.
The national carrier had planned to launch the service in May last year, but it couldn't materialise after some countries denied use of their airspaces for flights to Israel.
The announcement from Air India comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Monday, during his visit to the US, that Saudi Arabia had given permission to the Indian carrier for flying over its territory on its route from New Delhi to Tel Aviv.
Many Arab and Islamic nations do not recognise Israel and, therefore, disallow airlines from using their airspace for flight services to that country.
"Air India will introduce thrice-a-week flight to Tel Aviv from Delhi with effect from March 22," an airline spokesperson said.
The Air India flight will fly over Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to reach Israel, a senior airline official said on condition of anonymity.
The permission to fly over Saudi Arabia will mean Air India will take a shorter route between Delhi and Tel Aviv and cover the distance in 7 hours and 10 minutes.
The permission to fly over Saudi Arabia will save Air India almost 2 hours and 10 minutes as compared to the longer route taken by Israel's national carrier El Al, which has direct flights between Tel Aviv and Mumbai, according to another Air India source.
El Al takes a circuitous route over the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and then enters India and avoids countries that are on the direct flight path such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. This route, too, is covered in 7 hours and 10 minutes.
If Air India were to take this route from New Delhi, it would cover the entire distance in more than nine hours, according to the source.
The official added that the shorter flight duration, combined with Air India's strong domestic network, could give the national carrier an advantage over El Al.
Israeli PM Netanyahu had acknowledged that the Israeli national carrier El Al would be at a disadvantage both in terms of cost and travel time, adding that he is in talks with the national carrier to ensure it doesn't suffer economically.
The Air India flight will operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. It will depart from New Delhi at 4.50 pm and arrive in Tel Aviv at 8.25 pm. On its return leg, the plane will depart from Tel Aviv at 10.15 pm and land in Delhi at 9 am the day after, according to a statement from Air India.
Air India will operate a Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on the route.
During a visit to Israel in July last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said direct flights would be launched between Delhi, Mumbai and Tel Aviv and the plan gathered steam following Netanyahu's visit to India in January this year.
Israel's tourism ministry has also announced a one-time grant of 750,000 euros to Air India for the flight operations.