The presence of a Saudia-liveried aircraft at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv stirred up a brief storm of controversy in the Middle East after images of it went viral on social media.
The Airbus A330-300, registration CS-TMT, belongs to Portuguese aircraft-leasing company Hifly. The company had sent the jet to Israel for routine maintenance with Bedek Aviation Co., a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
“[We can confirm] that the Airbus aircraft came to IAI facilities in order to have maintenance work due to an agreement IAI has with a European company that leases the plane to Saudi Arabia [Airlines, aka Saudia],” a spokeswoman for IAI said.
Unfortunately for Hifly, Israel and Saudi Arabia have severed all diplomatic links, related to the latter country’s role as a driving force behind the Arab League’s decades-long economic and political boycott of Israel. In fact, it is believed that no Saudi aircraft has landed in Israel since 1947, shortly before the State of Israel’s formation.
Saudia immediately canceled its contract with Hifly. In a statement, the airline said: “The company had been given a contract for air transport, to provide Saudia with planes for commercial operations. The plane was off duty and under the management of the holding company at the time when it left Saudi Arabia on May 3, for Brussels, Belgium, for routine maintenance.”
Saudia said Hifly had breached the terms of its contract, citing paragraph 7 of Article 8, which states that Hifly is committed to obtaining written approval from Saudia, that lists the airports where it is to land or the site slated to conduct routine maintenance.
The contract reads: “Such landing or operation process should take place in a country that shares diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to enable Saudia staff and the civil aviation authority to conduct inspection and follow up on the maintenance operation at any time.”
Hifly refused to comment on the faux pas.