Oman just dropped its flight ban on El Al. That means flights from Israel to Asia will get quicker

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For years, journey times flying east from Israel depended on who you were flying with.

If you were boarding a flight operated by Israeli airlines, including national carrier El Al, your flight would take around two hours more than if you were flying with another airline.

The reason? Israeli airlines were banned from the airspace of both Oman and Saudi Arabia. That meant flights to India and Southeast Asia, which would naturally head east from Israel, had to dip south, crossing over Jordan and following the Red Sea down to the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula, before hooking northeast.

Now, all that is set to change. Following the Saudi government’s announcement in July 2022 that the country’s airspace would open up to all carriers, Oman has followed suit.

El Al has posted a map of their current and new routes to Southeast Asia

On February 23, the Civil Aviation Authority of Oman announced that it will open its airspace to “all carriers that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflying” – effectively ending the ban on El Al, Israir and Arkia, Israel’s three airlines.

In a tweet, it said the move was “part of the Sultanate of Oman’s continuous efforts to fulfil its obligations under the Chicago Convention of 1944, which stipulates non-discrimination between civil aircrafts used in international air navigation.”

The move could cut Israeli carriers’ flight times to Asia by up to three hours, Jonathan Sivarajah, an El Al frequent flier and Israeli aviation commentator, told CNN.

He added that it “opens up further opportunities [for the airlines], not only to Asia but potentially to Australia, too.”

El Al’s nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to Bangkok is currently listed as taking 10 hours 45 minutes. But a nonstop flight on Royal Jordanian from Amman – 100 miles east of Tel Aviv – takes eight hours 10 minutes. In fact, flying Tel Aviv to Amman, and then on to Bangkok can be quicker, even including transfer time at the airport – a connecting flight can take as little as nine hours 55 minutes on Royal Jordanian.

When the airline was banned from Saudi airspace, El Al flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai took seven hours 45 minutes. That flight time was then slashed to five hours 15 minutes, before the route was put on hold.

As the announcement was made, El Al swiftly posted a map of their old and new routes to Southeast Asia on Instagram.

Sivarajah said that until now, competing international carriers have “flooded” Israel with quicker flights than what the country’s own airlines were able to provide.

“Tel Aviv-bound foreign carriers such as Air India could operate over territory which El Al couldn’t. There was a significant fare difference because of the routing in favor of the likes of Air India,” he said.

“It wasn’t until the Abraham Accords [of 2020] and the Saudi approval that it became partly possible for Israeli carriers to compete. The last stumbling block was Oman.”

He expects the new routings to start “within the next few days.”

In a statement, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “a day of great news for Israeli aviation.”

He added: “The Far East is not so far away and the skies are no longer the limit.

“We have worked to open the airspace, first over Saudi Arabia, and from 2018 when I visited Oman, to add Oman as well, so that we can fly directly to India and on to Australia. This was achieved today, after considerable effort, including in recent months. Here is good news – Israel is opening up to the east on an unprecedented scale.”

Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also released a statement, calling the news “a historic decision that will shorten the road to Asia, lower costs for Israeli citizens and help Israeli airlines to be more competitive.” He personally thanked the sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, for his “substantial help” in the process.

The announcement came after months of talks between the two countries.

It also follows an announcement earlier this month that El Al would start a frequent flier partnership with UAE carrier Etihad Airways. Frequent fliers can now collect and spend air miles across both airlines. The two had started codesharing on flights in 2021.

Last year, El Al said that a route from Tel Aviv to Melbourne, Australia, was in the works.

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