New Delhi: Air India will fly non-stop to Tel Aviv three times a week starting May, connecting the Israeli capital with New Delhi ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in June. Following this, the state-run airline plans to introduce direct flights to US capital Washington D.C.
“Given the PM’s visit, this route has taken priority over other route introductions,” said a person with knowledge of the matter who did not want to be named. Air India will operate its brand new 787 Dreamliner planes on this route.
Air India chairman Ashwani Lohani and commercial director Pankaj Srivastava visited Jerusalem over the weekend to hold high-level discussions after a decision to start the direct flight was taken. The officials travelled by Israel’s national carrier El-Al from Mumbai—the only direct connection between the two countries at present.
Air India’s Airbus A310 planes flew directly to Israel from Mumbai until early 2000 and Delhi until mid 1990s after which the flights were withdrawn for commercial reasons.
This year, the two countries mark 25 years of a diplomatic relationship and Prime Minister Modi is likely to travel to Israel.
Israel has emerged as one of India’s key defence suppliers, with supplies totalling $1 billion in the past five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Passenger traffic between India and Israel has also been growing. The number of people flying directly between the two nations reached 158,000 in 2016, Israeli financial daily Globes reported on 2 March. The main destinations in India were Mumbai (62,280 passengers), New Delhi (57,370), Bengaluru (11,502), and Goa (6,347), according to the daily.
Israeli tourists flock to Goa’s beaches and the Manali hills via Delhi during a break that follows compulsory military training in Israel. Flights from Israel face restrictions in the West Asia region. For instance, Saudi Arabia does not allow Israel overflying rights.
“Jewish passengers cannot transit Middle East airports nor do they want to,” said Steve Forte, New York-based former Jet Airways CEO. “Most connections used today are not very convenient; therefore, non-stop service between BOM/DEL and TLV seems like a very good idea.”
In an ideal world, Air India would coordinate service with El Al so that you would only have one round-trip per day with code share agreements, Forte said.
Unless this issue is sorted out, Delhi-Tel Aviv flights may take eight hours because of the detour instead of six as the crow flies, the person cited above said.
Air India will next start a non-stop service between New Delhi and Washington DC. The airline already connects Chicago, New York, Newark and San Francisco with direct flights, some of the longest in the world at over 15 hours. The Washington flights will be on Boeing 777 planes.
Air India’s subsidiary Air India Express has dropped its planned flights to Iran’s capital this summer following the tough views on sanction of US President Donald Trump’s administration. The airline uses planes funded by the US Export Import Bank (EXIM), which places conditions on usage in countries facing sanctions such as Iran.
“It’s too much of a complication at the moment,” Air India Express CEO K. Shyam Sundar said, “So, we are looking east - Dhaka, Bangkok.”