Israel-UAE flights 'delayed to January'
Direct flights between Israel and the UAE, slated to begin in October after a landmark normalisation deal, are to be postponed until January because of coronavirus, an Israeli official said Tuesday.
The air link announced after the two states signed the deal at the White House last month aims to open up tourism and new business ventures despite the Covid-19 slowdown.
But a second lockdown in Israel, which now has one of the world's highest infection rates per capita, has put plans on hold, denting hopes for quick gains.
"I feel with the Covid that we're kind of running with our hands behind our backs," Jerusalem's deputy mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told AFP during a visit to Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates. "There were supposed to be direct flights in October, then Israel went into shutdown. Now, when I speak to officials here and there, we're looking at the first of January," said Hassan-Nahoum, who is also co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council.
Dubai-based carrier Emirates plans to produce kosher meals in keeping with Jewish dietary rules, with a dedicated production facility expected to be operating from its UAE premises by January. Despite the delay, Hassan-Nahoum said the tourism sector will be among the first to benefit from the normalisation agreement.
With the accord having taken everyone by surprise, there are few firm projections but she said industry experts estimated 100-250,000 visitors a year from each side. "I can tell you in Israel there's such a thirst for peace and normalisation within our country, especially the UAE which is the most modern economy of the Middle East. People are really excited," she said.
A new influx of tourists will be welcome news for Dubai, which has the region's most diversified economy but saw GDP contract 3.5 percent in the first quarter, after two years of modest growth.
Emirates airline has been forced to downsize and cut thousands of jobs.