Saudi investment chiefs have revealed ambitious plans to transform the Kingdom into a top-class hub for world transport.
The visionary proposals, incorporating the privatization of the country’s 27 airports, were outlined by the governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), Ibrahim Al-Omar, on the final day of the 2019 Global Aviation Summit (GAS) being held in Riyadh.
Air traffic in the Kingdom grew by 8 percent last year with 99.86 million passengers travelling on 771,828 flights.
Al-Omar said: “Our vision is to put Saudi Arabia, the GCC’s largest country by economy and population, at the heart of this important industry, and maximize the potential of our strategic position to develop Saudi Arabia as a hub for world-class services and connections between air, land, and sea.
“In the past three years, we have made huge steps forward implementing 45 percent of around 500 economic reforms. This has resulted in the Kingdom being ranked 4th by the World Bank for the number of reforms achieved within the G20.”
And the anticipated aviation boom is expected to create thousands of new jobs in air-related careers.
Saudi Arabia currently has 13 international and 14 domestic airports, together hosting more than 120 foreign airlines. According to passenger statistics for 2018, the top destinations out of Saudi airports were the UAE and Egypt followed by Pakistan, India, and Turkey. Foreign pilgrims arriving by air last year for Hajj and Umrah were estimated at 10 million.
One of the Kingdom’s objectives for 2030 is to privatize many government services and in an attempt to separate the legislative side from the operational, the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority (SAVC) was established to operate and handle all the commercial activities and investments of the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).
The privatization strategy will look to place all Saudi airports under a single umbrella wholly owned by SAVC.
The summit, organized by the GACA at the capital’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), concluded on Tuesday with discussions between delegates from leading international aviation corporations on the best use of technology for growing and streamlining air transportation in the Middle East.
Talks also centered on strategies to optimize human resources in developing air traffic transport operations to meet top international standards.
The conference also heard about Saudi achievements within the ICAO. These included the Kingdom joining the ICAO carbon compensation and reduction initiative, winning elections to the ICAO council, and being one of the first countries to ratify the Chicago Convention, a specialized agency of the UN charged with coordinating and regulating international air travel.
Saudi Arabia also hosts and finances the permanent headquarters for the ICAO’s Cooperative Aviation Security Program for the Middle East.
The final sessions of GAS discussed the next generation of airports and building aviation capabilities. Delegates focused on how smart technology and its interaction with passengers is reshaping the airport model of the future, resulting in unique investment opportunities.
The summit also highlighted opportunities for growth in skills training, with regional and global demand increasing for aviation professionals such as pilots, air traffic controllers, engineers, technicians, network and revenue managers.
Speaking at the conference to Arab News, president of the Saudi Academy of Civil Aviation (SACA), Fahad Al-Harbi, said there had been a surge in women training in interpersonal skills, aviation security, and air traffic control. In the last year SACA has witnessed a 72 percent increase in female trainees from 172 in 2017 to 295 in 2018.
Al-Harbi said SACA was founded in 1962 as one of GACA’s main subsidiaries to train air traffic controllers within Saudi Arabia.
“Today we have five different schools: Fire and rescue, air traffic control, air navigation systems, aviation security, and airport operation and safety.
“Three years back we decided to set a target of bringing an international experience to our local market. An internationally approved and accredited curriculum certified by the ICAO or the International Air Transport Association (IATA) means students on our major programs won’t need to be recertified with an international body. Last year we trained about 9,000 students both male and female.”
Transport ministers from 15 countries joined 140 senior civil aviation officials, government representatives and experts for the Riyadh summit, during which three air service agreements were signed between Saudi Arabia and Cyprus, Chad, and Georgia. In addition, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Kingdom and Argentina for the two countries to enter into air transport cooperation.