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History: First commercial Emirati flight lands in Tel Aviv

Emirati pilot says flight was thought “impossible” several months ago and is the result of “brave” leaders

An Etihad Airlines flight landed at Ben-Gurion Airport at 7 a.m. on Monday morning making history as the first commercial flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv.

Israeli airport officials invited pilot Abdullah Salah to share a few words on the tarmac at an early-morning ceremony welcoming the flight. Salah apologized for not preparing a speech, but said he would speak from his heart.

“If someone asked me a few months ago that I would be here today making this speech here in Tel Aviv, I would say that’s impossible,” he said. “But because we have brave men who believe in peace… because of them they worked together and made peace. I hope the whole region, one day, would be in peace and that people would live together in peace and harmony.”

This flight comes a month after the countries signed normalization agreements on Sept. 15 in Washington D.C. and a day after the two countries signed an aviation agreement to allow for 28 weekly flights between Tel Aviv, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Israel's Transportation Ministry announced Sunday.

The return flight departed a few hours later bringing an Israeli delegation of tourism industry leaders to Abu Dhabi as part of a trade mission. Tickets between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi are not yet been made available to the general public.

A few weeks ago, an El Al flight became the first of the Israeli airlines to land in Abu Dhabi, carrying diplomats and journalists to the Gulf state.

UAE delegates wave to the departing El Al plane at the end of Israel-UAE normalization talks in Abu Dhabi, September 1, 2020. (Photo: El Al Spokesperson’s Office)

The new aviation agreement is set to be signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and will also enable 10 weekly cargo flights and unlimited charter flights between the UAE and Israel’s Ramon Airport near Eilat.

In a sign of the rich potential expected in both nations, Etihad Airways launched a website in Hebrew to greet Israeli users who want to book tickets.

So far two Israeli carriers, Israir and El Al, said they will offer direct flights from Ben Gurion to Abu Dhabi.

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