Saudi air traffic controllers give an Israir jet unprecedented permission to fly over Mecca, home to the holiest shrine in Islam.
In what appears to be another positive step toward eventual normalization with Saudi Arabia, an Israeli passenger jet was given permission to fly over Mecca to avoid a storm over the Red Sea.
Airline buffs who watch air traffic in real time around the Middle East noticed that an Israir flight from Tel Aviv to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa made a detour while flying over the Red Sea between Africa and Saudi Arabia, the normal air route over international waters that Israeli planes fly to avoid flying over enemy countries.
Online airplane tracking websites showed the Israir flight diverting. Instead of flying down the middle of the Red Sea, it turned and flew over the Saudi city of Mecca, home to the holiest shrine in Islam.
While the Saudis officially have no diplomatic relations with Israel and are still technically shunning direct talks, the Saudi air traffic controllers helped the Israeli plane detour through Saudi airspace to avoid bad weather on Monday night.
“It’s really quite nice,” the Israir pilot’s tweeted. “Because of the weather … the plane operator was forced to make a detour into Saudi Arabia.”
“The Saudi controller assisted the plane all the way,” the tweet said, adding that if people tagged their posting they “might also get exclusive photos from the detour.” The tweet added a pretty aerial photo of the city of Mecca lit up at night as the plane flew over before returning to its flight path over the Red Sea.
Although Saudi Arabia has not yet joined the Abraham Accords through which the UAE and Bahrain normalized ties with Israel, the Saudi transport ministry last month put out an announcement saying its airspace was now open to flights to and from Israel.
That decision is a great boost for Israel air travel, as previously flights to and from Israel were froced to detour around the Gulf Arab countries, adding several hours to flights to and from Asia.