Manila-based Philippine Airlines has requested overflight rights from Saudi Arabia for its planned non-stop services to Israel.

In a report from Reuters, Philippine Airlines president Jaime Bautista was quoted saying: “The Civil Aeronautics Board wrote to Saudi authorities asking for overflight (rights),” adding the letter was sent in October.

Should the overflight rights be granted to Philippine Airlines, the airline could save on fuel costs and travel time for the planned Manila-Tel Aviv service.

Overflight rights – known as First Freedom Rights - are granted by countries for flights to pass through another country in between the origin and destination without landing. These rights have become more important in long-haul travel, allowing airlines to save time and fuel costs using the rights to operate more direct routes. Examples of overflight rights used by carriers include Asian and North American carriers flying over Canada on the way to the US, European carriers flying through Russia on the way to Asian destinations, or Mexican and Canadian carriers overflying the US. 

Unlike most countries, Saudi Arabia is more selective when granting overflight rights to airlines in part that didn’t sign ICAO’s International Air Services Transit Agreement. For flights to Israel, the kingdom had previously refused overflight rights for flights to Israel – a country it has no diplomatic ties with. When granting overflight rights, the kingdom did issue a permit for Air India’s services to Tel Aviv in March 2018.

Philippine Transportation Undersecretary Manuel Tamayo said, “We have rights already as far as Israel is concerned. Hopefully, we should get to overfly Saudi Arabia to Israel. So we’re pushing for the signing of the overfly agreement by this quarter, as Israel is a seasonal market. Most passengers would like to travel there during the cold months.”

Philippine Airlines is looking to proceed with the planned service to Tel Aviv and the overflight rights would be an added benefit to the Philippine flag carrier. Both countries signed an air services agreement in November 2013 granting up to 21 flights per week between the countries. The Philippine flag-carrier is looking to serve Filipino OFWs based in Israel, and the growing visitor arrivals between both countries.

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