2020 is an unprecedented year in more ways than one. Whilst the corona pandemic has triggered all kinds of negative chain reactions, there is always that odd piece of positive news somewhere. Remarkably, it comes in the shape of a flight connection between 2 countries that have largely had a highly strained relationship over the past decades: Israel and the UAE
Strictly speaking, the historic El Al flight which departed from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 31AUG20, headed for Abu Dhabi, UAE, was not the first connection of its kind, but the
first one following the agreement of the U.S. mediated Abraham Accord by the two countries, on 13AUG20.
The first direct flight connection had taken place earlier in the year when, on 19MAY20, an Etihad Airways “preighter” carried 14 tons of urgent medical supplies from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, as a Covid-19 support flight for Palestinians.
First official passenger flight
Flight LY971, a B737-900 which carried a delegation of U.S. and Israeli officials to Abu Dhabi, did however set two records: not only was it the first direct commercial passenger flight between the two countries, it was also the first time an Israeli carrier had officially entered Saudi Arabian airspace. No Israeli commercial flight had ever been permitted to do so before. This authorization means that flight times are drastically reduced to just 3.5 hours instead of around 8, with all the economic and environmental benefits this brings.
Incidentally, the flight was also the first El Al operation since 01JUL20, when the carrier had grounded all of its planes due to Covid-19. A third first, therefore. Its VIP passengers remained in Abu Dhabi for one night, returning the next day to Tel Aviv on Flight LY972.
Yet, whilst Saudi Arabia (and more recently, Bahrain) and the UAE had given the green light for Israeli flights to overfly and land, according to the Khaleej Times, UAE carriers were still awaiting reciprocal rights from Israeli authorities at the time.
Cargo flights to come
Shortly after that first passenger flight, El Al announced it would be setting up a weekly B747 freighter service on Wednesdays from Tel Aviv to Dubai, starting 16SEP20. These flights, however, will not be direct as they will first go via Liege, Belgium, where El Al Cargo has been operating out of since 2008 on its way to the U.S. and for imports/exports to/from Europe.
“The weekly El Al cargo flight to Dubai will enable Israeli companies connectivity in import[ing] and export[ing] from and to Dubai, as well as [connecting to] Asia in transfer from Dubai,” El Al stated in the Times of Israel.
The first cargo flight will transport agricultural and high-tech equipment to the UAE.
Experts predict huge potentials for the UAE-Israel connection – both in terms of international passenger hub connections, as well as investments and exports. According to the Khaleej Times, Israel’s Economic Ministry has estimated “Israeli exports to the UAE [at] $300-$500 million annually and UAE investments in Israel could reach $350 million a year”, whilst it quotes Mark Martin, CEO of Martin Consulting, as predicting a code-share between Emirates and El Al in future: “Cargo is an immediate opportunity and I see no reason why cargo and air freight cannot start. Emirates Skycargo and El Al can start code-sharing and there can be a lot of cargo play. Passenger air travel might be a bit of challenge and full-blown commercial flights that should take a little more time. But I hope the two countries can come together and form a good cordial connect on this.”
In the minds of the people
How soon “normalized” relations will also be accepted by the man on the street, is a huge question. Whilst Palestinians have strongly criticized the deal, when Fujairah in the UAE suffered a rare minor earthquake to the magnitude of 3.4 on the Richter scale on 04SEP20, many of the comments on Social Media also quickly and derogatively attributed this incident to the recent flight arrival from Israel. Across the internet, there are as many critical articles on the joint move, as there are positive ones. Time will tell.
We always welcome your comments to our articles. However, we can only publish them when the sender name is authentic.