Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) is taking legal action against the Portuguese aircraft-leasing company Hi Fly for flying an empty jet bearing the Saudia logo to an airport in Israel.
A photo of the jet was circulated widely on social media last week, with Saudia initially denying that any of its jets had landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
The state-owned airline on Friday issued a press statement clarifying that the jet in question was actually owned by Hi Fly, which leases jets and crew to Saudia.
Hi Fly “committed a blatant violation of the contract” with Saudia, according to a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.
The state news agency, quoting Saudia, said Hi Fly was obliged to obtain written approval over where it landed aircraft or conducted maintenance, adding that such activity “should take place in a country that shares diplomatic relations” with Saudi Arabia.
“Saudia has notified [Hi] Fly of nullifying the contract signed between the two parties and now it is in the process of taking the legal action against the contract violator.”
Saudia said that the jet was out of service and under Hi Fly’s management when it took off from Saudi Arabia on May 3 to head to Brussels for routine maintenance.
The airline stated that it was not informed in advance of Hi Fly’s decision to land in Israel, a country which is not recognized by Saudi Arabia.
Saj Ahmad, Chief Analyst at StrategicAero Research, said leasing agreements such as the one between Saudia and Hi Fly are very common.
“Short-term capacity changes happen all the time, especially for smaller airlines that rely on seasonal travelers,” he told Al Arabiya News.
Ahmad described the incident as “a storm in a tea-cup”, saying that Hi Fly can “easily remarket the jet if they elect to do so”.
Neither Saudia nor Hi Fly were available for further comment.
This is not the first time a plane has landed in a Middle-Eastern country lacking diplomatic ties with the airline’s country of origin. In 2005 the U.S. carrier Northwest made an emergency landing in Tehran after a false fire alarm in the cargo hold.