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  • Steve Jaffe

Israeli diplomatic breakthroughs start to bear tangible aeropolitical results

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

On March 16, the Jerusalem Post reported that Sudan had authorized direct flights to Israel to overfly its territory. The announcement came in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Sudanese leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in February. While it was disclosed at the time that the two sides would work toward normalization, no specific timeline was given.

We’ve heard such rumors of pending overflight permission time and time again – most recently regarding Morocco, Saudi Arabia (the latter has allowed Air India flights to Israel over its territory but not so for Israeli airliners). But this time – it’s different.

A look at the track of Latam’s three-weekly flights between Sao Paulo and Tel Aviv shows that the carrier is now flying a more direct route to Israel over Africa, rather than the northerly detour over Spain and across the Mediterranean. To our knowledge, the last flight to Tel Aviv to use that routing was Latam 712 on March 15 (below)

Latam 712 Sao Paulo - Tel Aviv avoiding African airspace
Latam 712 GRU-TLV March 15, 2020

Subsequently, the flight was operated over Africa, entering the continent over Equatorial Guinea and continuing over Cameroon. FlightAware loses the actual track of the flight until it just before it reaches the Egyptian Red Sea coast southwest of Sharm el Sheik and the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The flight then continues the standard route up the Gulf of Aqaba entering Israel over the southern port city of Eilat.

Latam 712 Sao Paulo -- Tel Aviv overflying Africa
Latam 712 GRU-TLV March 29, 2020

The opening up of Sudanese airspace has also brought immediate benefits – the first direct flight from Nigeria to Israel. Air Peace, the largest Nigerian airline, recently acquired operating authority for flights to Israel. In January, the company said that they intended to commence flights to Tel Aviv sometime in the latter part of 2020.

With the coronavirus outbreak, that’s all uncertain at present. But the airline did operate, on the request of the government of Israel, a special repatriation flight from Lagos, with a stop in Abuja, before continuing on to Tel Aviv. Air Peace operated the route with one of its 777-300s, airlifting 274 Israelis back home.

Air Peace 7801 Tel Aviv - Lagos overflying Africa
Air Peace 7801 TLV - LOS March 20, 2020

The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema described the flight as historic because it is the first time Nigeria and Israel would have a direct flight and expressed hope that subsequently the two countries would have scheduled direct flight between Lagos and Tel Aviv.

“It is a historic day for both Nigeria and Israel. History has been made today. 60 years of diplomatic relations, no direct flight has been conducted between Nigeria and Israel till today. So this is the first time Nigeria and Israel will have direct air connectivity. So it is a historic day and it is going to portend greater things that will come. Both countries have a lot to gain by having direct flights. Nigeria is a land of huge potential, which Israel may be willing to tape into, while Nigeria will want to tap into science and technology, which Israel is known for.”

The flight originated in Lagos carrying 65 Israelis, before continuing on to Abuja where 209 additional Israelis boarded. The flight track headed northeast over Nigeria, before being lost to FlightAware. The track was picked up again southwest of Sharm el Sheikh, just like Latam 712.

Both Latam and Air Peace have directly benefited from the opening of Sudanese airspace. Latam saves nearly two hours of flight time on its return westbound flight to Sao Paulo. What’s not clear is whether Israeli airliners will also be given overflight permission, or, like with Saudi Arabia, it will be a right bestowed only upon foreign airlines. If so, El Al will have yet another bone to pick over inequitable treatment allowed by its own government. But that’s a subject for another day.

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