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  • Steve Jaffe

Israeli skies starting to fill with transit flights

In another historic breakthrough for Israeli aviation, an Etihad 787-10 enroute from Milan (MXP) to Abu Dhabi (AUH) became the first commercial flight to transit over Israel beyond Jordan. Using the recently established airways to connect the airspace of Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, EY 88 entered Israel just north of Tel Aviv on the N134 high altitude jet route, continuing east to SALAAM, where the route becomes A412 before joining UN318 and on into Saudi airspace over GENEX.

New airways connecting Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia
New airways connecting Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia

Celebrating the event in real time, an Israeli air traffic controller was heard telling the Etihad pilot in an audio clip released by the Israeli Ministry of Transportation

“Captain, we are thrilled and honored to welcome you to overfly Israel. This is a historic moment we have all been waiting for. We hope it will inspire the whole region and mark the beginning of a new era, inshallah (in Arabic: God willing).”

The pilot responded: “Inshallah, thank you, the honor is ours.”

האזינו למגדל הפיקוח עם מעבר טיסת EY88 ממילאנו לאבו דאבי מעל שמי ישראל

— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) October 14, 2020 (Times of Israel)

EY 88 -- First flight to transit the new airway

The route was made possible through a series of recent airspace agreements related to the ongoing diplomatic normalization process between Israel and the Gulf States. The more direct routing between the Gulf and Europe will result in significant times savings.

European airlines have already gotten into the game. Swiss is flying between Zurich (ZRH) and Dubai (DXB) over the new route. As captured by Flightradar24, the route avoids the dog leg south over the Gulf of Aqaba normally taken to avoid Israeli airspace.

LH 704 FRA-MLE 11/1/20 (Flightradar24)
LX 242 ZRH-DXB 10/30/20 (Flightradar24)

Lufthansa operated a flight from Frankfurt (FRA) to Male (MLE) over Israel and Jordan, continuing through Saudi Arabia to Abu Dhabi before heading south-southeast over Oman and on to the Seychelles.

LH 704 FRA-MLE 11/1/20 (Flightradar24)
LH 704 FRA-MLE 11/1/20 (Flightaware)

Interestingly, KLM has started to fly from Amsterdam (AMS) to both Dammam (DMM) and Kuwait (KWI) over the new shortcut. While the Dammam route reciprocates the overflight rights that Saudi Arabia has granted to Israel, the only comment from government officials to date regarding the prospect of recognition of Israel has been that Kuwait “would be the last country in the Gulf to do so”). But the fact that a flight to or from Kuwait can overfly Israel is the surest sign that, with the notable exception of the ongoing blockade of Qatar, the skies of the Middle East are truly opening up.

KL 1101 AMS-DME 10/31/20 (Flightaware)
KL 1101 AMS-DME 10/31/20 (Flightaware)
KL 491 AMS-DMM 10/31/20 (Flightaware)

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