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El Al Operates Historic Flight Over Saudi Arabia Following Peace Agreement

El Al’s 6th Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in the airline’s first retro livery. El Al has flown its first service directly over Saudi Arabia to the UAE in decades. (Photo: Timothy Stake, Boeing)

El Al Israel Airline Flight 971 departed Tel Aviv bound for Abu Dhabi on Aug. 31, flying over Saudi Arabia for the first time since 1972. The flight was allowed to cross Saudi Arabian airspace that had previously been blocked to all Israeli air traffic.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Boeing 737-900 carried a delegation of Israeli and U.S. officials, including the U.S. president’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner as well as Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat.

On Saturday, the United Arab Emirates repealed the law boycotting Israel, thereby opening the door to normalize relations between the two countries. The deal, brokered by the U.S., was made public on Aug. 13.

In his pre-departure briefing to passengers, the captain of the flight welcomed the passengers on board and said “this flight records two significant events in the history of the state of Israel and the region. The region is heading towards regional peace.”

In a tweet in Hebrew, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the advent of the flight as an example of “peace for peace,” alluding to his long-held disbelief in the notion that only trading occupied land will bring peace between Israel and Arab countries.

The aircraft, registered 4X-EHD, was adorned with a special livery addition on the nose of the aircraft. The word “PEACE” was affixed in Arabic, English and Hebrew. And the captain flew the flags of the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the U.S. out the cockpit widow prior to departure.

The flight took approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes, significantly less than the more than 7 hours previously required before overflight privileges were restored.

After landing in Abu Dhabi, Kushner described the deal between the countries as a “historic breakthrough” and said it was a “tremendous honor” to have joined the flight.

“What happened here was three great leaders came together and they started writing a new script for the Middle East. They said the future doesn’t have to be predetermined by the past,” Kushner continued, per the BBC.

Before the UAE, Egypt and Jordan were the only other Arab countries in the Middle East to officially recognize Israel, after signing peace treaties more than 20 years ago.

The joint teams are expected to meet with Emirati representatives to develop areas of cooperation between Israel and the UAE.

Flight LY971 was numbered to represent the UAE’s international dialing code. The return flight will be numbered LY972, after Israel’s international dialing code.

Rick Shideler


  • Rick Shideler

    Rick is a retired airline maintenance professional with over 40 years experience in commercial, corporate and military aviation sectors. Rick holds an FAA Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) and a FCC General RadioTelephone Licenses. Rick is a veteran of the United States Air Force and has served in multiple leadership positions including Director of Maintenance for a large corporate aviation firm, airline Director of Engineering and has chaired multiple aviation maintenance safety and reliability industry committees. Rick took his first airplane ride at six months old and became an airline geek shortly thereafter.

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