New Delhi, Feb 7: Saudi Arabia has granted Air India approval to operate flights from Delhi to Tel Aviv as reported by Israeli daily Haaretz. But official confirmation from either the ministry of civil aviation here or Air India is awaited.

According to a spokesperson of airline, the national carrier has sought permission from regulatory body Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for thrice-a-week flight services between Delhi and Tel Aviv from March, which is awaited. Another Air India official said the airline is also waiting for slots at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport and Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

Many Arab and Islamic nations do not recognise Israel and, therefore, disallow airlines from using their airspace for flight services to that country. According to the official, an approval from Saudi Arabia to use its airspace will allow Air India to take a shorter route by flying over Ahmedabad, Muscat, Saudi Arabia and then land at Tel Aviv.

The route will shorter flight duration between two places by two and half an hour and save fuel costs a lot. At present, Israel’s El Al flights between Tel Aviv and Mumbai take a seven-hour circuitous route and fly over the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and then enter India and avoid countries that are on the direct flight path such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Due to route overflying issues Air India was earlier also examining the possibility of operating flights from Mumbai to Tel Aviv.

Israel’s tourism ministry has announced a one-time grant of 750,000 euros to Air India for flight operations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced new flight service connecting Delhi, Mumbai and Tel Aviv when he visited Israel last year. Air India had earlier announced to start direct flight between Delhi and Tel Aviv. The flight service was to start in May but the launch was delayed as several countries, which fall in the selected route, denied the overflight permission. Air India used to operate directs flights to Israel from Delhi until mid-1990s and Mumbai until early 2000. The flights were withdrawn for commercial reasons.