This summer, a historic peace agreement was announced between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Subsequently, direct passenger flights between the two countries were expected to begin this month. However, amid a sharp rise of Israeli COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, these services will be postponed until January 2021.
On August 31st, El Al flight LY971 landed in Abu Dhabi from Tel Aviv to mark a landmark moment in the history between Israel and the UAE. The three-hour trip carried a delegation of Israeli and United States officials. It was permitted to pass Saudi Arabian airspace, which was usually blocked for Israeli air operations.
This service was the first official flight from Israel to the UAE after the latter repealed a boycotting law. This previous policy had been in place since 1972.
In recent weeks, coronavirus incidents in Israel have had a sharp rise, peaking at 11,316 confirmed cases on September 23rd, according to Worldometers. The country had subsequently gone into another lockdown, which has seemed to help it reduce the number of daily cases in October.
Amid the challenging situation, Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum announced a delay of direct Israel-UAE flights until the beginning of next year. The co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council confirmed the news during a trip to Dubai. However, she remains optimistic about the future of these operations as there is a demand for such services.
“I feel with the COVID that we’re kind of running with our hands behind our backs. There were supposed to be direct flights in October, then Israel went into shutdown. Now, when I speak to officials here and there, we’re looking at the first of January,” Hassan-Nahoum said, as reported by The Times of Israel.
“I can tell you in Israel there’s such a thirst for peace and normalization within our country, especially the UAE which is the most modern economy of the Middle East. People are really excited.”
Gearing up for the future
The inauguration of direct passenger services is also big news for airlines in the Middle East. Last month, Emirates announced that it plans to create kosher meals for those adhering to Jewish dietary requirements. The Dubai-based carrier is expecting to open up a dedicated production facility for these meals by January.
Notably, the launch of nonstop flights will undoubtedly increase tourism between the two countries. Therefore, carriers will be excited to help transport these passengers.
Israel has been pretty strict when it comes to measures in response to COVID-19 this year. So, it’s not a surprise that these flights will be delayed by a few months. Nonetheless, when these services do start, they will mark a new era in aviation activity in the region.