Middle East

Dubai to gain from travel opening with Israel


Dubai is likely to benefit the most in aviation from the United Arab Emirates’ historic deal to normalize relations with Israel, Bloomberg has reported, gaining a new stream of travellers that can help the Gulf travel hub bounce back from the coronavirus crisis that has decimated air traffic.

The agreement between the two countries sets aside decades of enmity, opening ties through air travel, tourism, investment, security and telecommunications. Delegations from the two countries are set to meet soon to work out the details.

The opening will give the UAE’s biggest carriers – Emirates and Etihad — an opportunity to feed Israeli passengers through their airport hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, respectively, connecting to destinations farther east and west. Currently, Royal Jordanian and Turkish Airlines are the only carriers in the Middle East that fly to Israel, the Bloomberg report said.

Dubai in particular could benefit, as its airport offers daily flights to more than 250 destinations, said Anne Correa, vice president for airline and airport services at aviation consulting firm Morten Beyer & Agnew. Dubai’s gains could prove to be a setback for Turkish Airlines, “as they have traditionally provided those profitable connections for travellers coming from Israel through their hub in Istanbul,” Correa said.

While Israel and the U.S. expect other Arab nations to follow suit, until then the majority of regional airspace remains closed to Israeli-registered aircraft. The opening of Saudi Arabian skies would be particularly crucial for Israeli airlines, given its large land mass in the centre of the region, where conflicts often force planes to reroute, Bloomberg said.

Israeli flag carrier El Al was grounded because of the coronavirus, and recently extended its hiatus through the end of August while it tries to arrange a financing plan. When operating, its planes have had to run a dogleg route to Mumbai, for example, down the Red Sea and up the Gulf of Aden to avoid Saudi airspace. That adds two hours to the trip from Tel Aviv and puts the Israeli carrier at a huge disadvantage to Air India, which can fly the route direct.