Saudi Arabia said it would open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from Israel, in a decision welcomed by US President Joe Biden who is due to visit the kingdom on Friday.
The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said the country’s airspace was now open to all carriers that meet its requirements for overflights, in line with international conventions that say there should be no discrimination between civil aircraft.
The decision will “complement the efforts aimed at consolidating the kingdom’s position as a global hub connecting three continents and to enhance international air connectivity,” GACA added in a statement.
Bypassing Saudi Arabian airspace had added to flight times and increased fuel burn on some services to and from Israel.
US President Joe Biden welcomed the decision, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.
“This decision paves the way for a more integrated, stable, and secure Middle East region, which is vital for the security and prosperity of the United States and the American people, and for the security and prosperity of Israel,” Sullivan said in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, a US official told Reuters that Saudi Arabia would soon grant Israeli airlines unfettered overflight access and permit direct charter flights from Israel for Muslims participating in the annual Haj pilgrimage in Makkah.
Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, does not recognise Israel and has said nothing of possible bilateral developments during Biden’s visit.
Israel has also shied from drawing such links.
Despite the absence of official ties, Saudi Arabia had agreed in 2020 to allow Israel-United Arab Emirates flights to cross its territory.