UAE’s Etihad formally announces launch of daily direct flights to Israel in 2021

Etihad Airways, the United Arab Emirates’ national carrier, announced it will start direct flights to Israel in March 2021 after the countries’ recent agreement to normalize ties.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline “will launch daily scheduled year-round flights to Tel Aviv,” it said in a statement.

It added the service will begin on March 28 — approximately six months after the UAE signed a US-brokered deal to formalize relations with Israel, the first such accord between a Gulf nation and the Jewish state.

“The commencement of scheduled flights is a historic moment and as an airline, cements Etihad’s commitment to growing opportunities for trade and tourism,” said Mohammad al-Bulooki, chief operating officer of Etihad Aviation Group, according to the statement.

Last month an Etihad flight lauded as the first commercial shuttle between the two countries landed at Ben Gurion airport, before departing for Abu Dhabi later that day with an Israeli travel and tourism delegation on board.

Dubai’s budget airline flydubai had already announced that it would start direct flights to Tel Aviv this month, operating 14 flights a week.

Unlike Dubai and the other emirates that make up the UAE, Abu Dhabi has placed stringent coronavirus restrictions on entering the city.

Israeli carrier Israir has announced that it will offer direct flights from Ben Gurion Airport to Abu Dhabi and Israeli national carrier El Al will also reportedly offer flights on the route.

With their economies hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the normalization deal.

They have already signed treaties on direct flights, along with accords on investment protection, science and technology.

Earlier this month, Abu Dhabi gave its final okay to a visa exemption program with Israel.

The agreement still must be ratified by the Israeli cabinet and Knesset before it enters into force. The Knesset last month approved Israel’s normalization deal with the UAE by an overwhelming majority, all but ensuring that the visa program will be confirmed in the near future.

Despite that, with a few exceptions, non-Israeli tourists are currently not permitted to enter Israel under coronavirus restrictions, although the UAE is classified as a “green” country under Health Ministry’s regulations, meaning that travelers returning to Israel are not required to quarantine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers are concerned about potential misunderstandings and incidents stemming from cultural differences between Israelis and Emiratis, ahead of the launching of direct flights between the countries, a report said.

Netanyahu has advocated the publication of a “code of conduct” of sorts for Israeli tourists about to visit the United Arab Emirates, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

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