Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pilots can't always take the most direct route. 

Cailey Rizzo
Updated March 30, 2018

Air India’s new route from New Delhi to Tel Aviv made history last week when it became the first to take a very politicized shortcut through Saudi Arabian airspace.

India’s state-owned airline is the only carrier to have been granted permission to fly an Israel-bound flight through Saudi airspace — a fact that has greatly upset El Al, Israeli's national flag carrier.

For the past 70 years, Saudi Arabia has not allowed any flight coming from, or going to, Israel to use its airspace. The ban stems from the fact that Saudi Arabia (and many other Middle Eastern countries) do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

By taking this controversial shortcut, Air India has been able to shave two hours off the total flight time — and slash ticket prices.

El Al says claims its competitor has a “significant and unfair” advantage. To avoid Saudi airspace, the Israeli airline’s route from Tel Aviv to Mumbai must include a lengthy detour over the Red Sea, and takes about eight hours in total.

Air India’s flight is El Al's only competitor for a similar route.

Despite covering a shorter distance, El Al's flight to Mumbai takes longer because of the inconvenient rerouting. As a result, the airline issued a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Israeli government, the Civil Aviation Authority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, transportation minister Yisrael Katz, and Air India, according to The New York Times.

El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin wrote a letter to the International Civil Aviation Organization demanding that they "procure equal permission for El Al to fly above Saudi Arabia."

Saudi Arabia has not yet publicly commented on the issue, yet is far from the only country banning certain flights in its airspace. El Al is not allowed to fly over Indonesian airspace either, which added an extra seven hours to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s flight to Australia last year. Flights from Qatar were also banned from flying over Saudi Arabia last year. And in December, Singapore Airlines announced that it was rerouting flights to avoid North Korean airspace.

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