From Oct 2020, Israel started allowing international flights to overfly its airspace. This new option could shorten flight times between Europe and the Middle East as these can now go direct via Jordan/Saudi, rather than having to route through Turkey and then across Iran.
The basic rules
- Flights can overfly Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, regardless of destination – though you have to be departing from one of the airports on Israel’s approved list for them to give you an overflight permit.
- But if you’re going to/from Israel itself (i.e. LLBG/Tel Aviv), Saudi Arabia will only let you overfly its airspace if headed to/from the UAE or Bahrain – and these overflight permissions are considered on a case by case basis.
Israel overflights – opening times
Israel allows overflights at night on weekdays, and then all weekend from Thursday nights through to Sunday mornings. Check the LLLL Notams for exact timings.
Eurocontrol have published this doc which basically tells you everything you need to know about the new policy. Here are the useful maps that Eurocontrol have created, to make all this easier to understand:
Israel have published AIC 7/20 listing the airports they will allow you to depart from if you want to fly to Israel, or overfly Israeli airspace. The important change from the previous version of this list is that it now includes OMDB/Dubai and OMAA/Abu Dhabi. If you want to operate anywhere not on the list, you can request overflight permits 30 days in advance (if a commercial flight) or 10 days in advance if non-commercial. Jordan also requires overflight permits, which should be requested via an agent.
How to get an Israel overflight permit
Israel have published a very specific guide on how to do this, which you can download here.
Here’s a summary:
- You must be departing from one of the approved airports in AIC 7/20. Your destination airport doesn’t matter.
- Unlike for landing permits, you don’t need a ‘local sponsor’ for overflight permits – i.e. a contact person in Israel who can vouch for you. (For landing permits, this person must be Israeli, and personally acquainted with all passengers – not just a travel agent or hotel representative. They will be contacted by the security services before any approval is given).
- You must provide passport copies of the crew and passengers, who must be nationals of countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel. The same rule applies to the country your aircraft is registered in.
- Fill in the permit application form, and send it back to ASOC at email@example.com.
The next step is where it can get a bit confusing. Get ready for some jargon. Check out the full guidance on ASOC’s website, but here’s the lowdown on how it works and what to do:
1. ASOC will check your permit request, and if approved, will reply to you with a Pending Permission Notification.
2. The Captain must then call or log in to the ASOC website to submit an Entry Code. The Pending Permission Notification then becomes a Final Security Arrival Permit.
3. You’re good to go! On entering Israeli airspace, you’ve then got to follow the Arrival Identification Procedure. This bit is easier than it sounds – ATC will basically just ask for your Entry Code to approve you for entry. ASOC have published an example of how you can expect that conversation to go, plus what happens if they can’t hear you, or if your deets don’t match up to what they’ve got on file – in which case, expect to have to tell them your favorite color and your pet’s name (seriously).
What about flights to/from Israel?
This is where it gets tricky.
There are several countries in the region (and around the world) which do not officially recognise Israel, and ban both direct flights and overflying traffic to/from Israel.
In 2018, we did some research and put together a list of these countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, Yemen.
There were a few exceptions, such as Sudan, who regularly allowed Ethiopian Airlines to use their airspace for their HAAB/Addis Ababa to LLBG/Tel Aviv flights; and Saudi Arabia, who in March 2018 started giving Air India permission to use its airspace on flights between VIDP/Delhi and LLBG/Tel Aviv.
However, things took a step forward in Sep 2020, when Saudi Arabia started allowing all flights between Israel and the UAE to overfly Saudi airspace. There are still some restrictions on this though: if it is an Israeli-made aircraft, or the crew or registration is Israeli then Saudi authorities will review it on a case by case basis. A permit agent did advise that they have obtained some Saudi Arabia overflight permits for these type of operations, but various news reports through 2021 suggest it is not always successful.
The bottom line
The main benefit, for now, seems to be for flights between Europe and the Middle East which should be able to overfly both Israeli and Saudi airspace, regardless of destination.
Most flights between Israel and the UAE/Bahrain should also be able to overfly Saudi Arabia, making use of a significant track saving.
But flights between Israel and Asia (or anywhere else other than the UAE and Bahrain) will have to continue to operate via the narrow corridor available down through the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and across the Indian Ocean. There is no airway available in the Red Sea between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, so you have to fly a direct route between the FIRs. As reported by an OPSGROUP member, here’s how it works:
“FL290 for southbound traffic, and FL300 for northbound. ATC at both Cairo and Saudi FIRs are used to that. When departing from Israel and going southbound, after losing radar contact with Cairo, you are on your own. Report on Africa VHF freq that you are ‘over International waters southbound / northbound etc’. Listen to Saudi control and try to call them – but do not expect an answer. You will need to maintain your own separation visually, although the Saudis will see you on their radar and they are used to jets flying there. Keep your landing lights on ‘pulse’ for any opposite traffic. Contact Asmara (Eritrea) control 10NM before entering their FIR. Use SAT phone if no one answers on VHF.”
This article was updated Sep 2021 with corrections to the Saudi overflight rules, with thanks to Hadid.
More on the topic:
- More: Saudi Ops for Hajj 2021
- More: Israel: Assessing the Airspace Risk
- More: Saudi-Yemen Airspace Update
- More: Rumbles Over Riyadh: A New Threat?
- More: SafeAirspace: 2021 Update