Aviation summit reveals plans for Saudi Arabia to become global transport hub

Capt. Aysha Alhameli, Mercy Awori, Haifa Hamedaldean, Chaima Ben Miloud, Maha Alyemni, and Rima Tayyah speak during the ‘Women in Aviation’ panel. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
Updated 04 April 2019

Aviation summit reveals plans for Saudi Arabia to become global transport hub

  • Anticipated boom likely to create thousands of new jobs in air-related careers

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.

KSRelief signs agreements for relief to Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians

Updated 25 April 2019

KSRelief signs agreements for relief to Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians

  • Al-Rabeeah: We have no hidden agenda in Syria and we work through international organizations

BEIRUT: The general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief), Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, signed on Wednesday seven agreements with Beirut and international and civil organizations operating in Lebanon to implement relief projects targeting Syrian and Palestinian refugees as well as the most affected host communities in Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who participated in the symposium at the Four Seasons Hotel Beirut to sign the agreements, praised the strong Saudi-Lebanese relations, which have existed for decades, and stressed Lebanon’s keenness to ensure their permanence and development.

He said: “The meetings Al-Rabeeah has held with different Lebanese political and religious authorities over the past two days during his visit to Lebanon, under the guidance of King Salman, indicate the Saudi leadership’s true desire to deepen the fraternal ties with the Lebanese, support Lebanon’s unity, independence, sovereignty and coexistence formula, and protect its existence from the repercussions of all the fires, crises and interventions that plague many countries.”

During the symposium, which was attended by a large group of political, religious and social figures, Al-Rabeeah called on the international donor community to shoulder more responsibility.

Addressing the implementing bodies, he said: “It is time to reconsider your working mechanisms in order to develop them and improve procedures to avoid negative impacts.”

“What I mean by reconsidering working processes is that there is a need to work professionally and skillfully because there are not many resources, and we must eliminate bureaucracy and speedily make the most of resources,” Al-Rabeeah told Arab News.

He stressed the importance of developing a close partnership between the donor and the implementer of projects, highlighting that KSRelief’s work is subject to international and regional oversight mechanisms as well as its own internal control mechanisms.

“We have two strategic partners, and when agreements are signed with the recipients of assistance, this means accepting oversight terms,” he said.

Al-Rabeeah said: “Saudi Arabia supports the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country, and so is the case for Yemen.”

“Saudi Arabia has supported peaceful dialogues, which restore security and stability,” he said. “In order for this to happen in Syria, we support the efforts of the United Nations and implement (as KSRelief) relief programs inside Syria. We also have major programs and we count on the UN to ensure a safe return for Syrian refugees.”

On the Syrian regions in which KSRelief is implementing its programs and the difficulties faced, Al-Rabeeah told Arab News: “We have nothing to do with military or religious matters, and wherever there is security, we work. We also work through the UN and the international organizations inside Syria, and we do not have any hidden agenda in this field.”

He stressed that “participating in rebuilding Syria requires security and stability, and the Saudi leadership hopes for a peaceful solution as soon as possible. Until this is achieved, the relief work will continue and won’t cease.”

Al-Rabeeah announced that KSRelief is implementing a quality program to rehabilitate recruited children in Yemen alongside its education, protection, health and environment projects.

“There are those who recruit children to fight in Yemen, violating all humanitarian laws. Our center rehabilitates them so that they are not used as terrorist tools in the future,” he said.

Al-Rabeeah emphasized that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 has given relief work its share, especially in terms of volunteering programs. “We have great examples involved in the field,” he said.

Among the signed agreements was one with the Lebanese High Relief Commission (HRC) to carry out a project to cover the food needs of Lebanese families.

Chairman of Lebanon’s High Relief Commission Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair told Arab News that the agreement targets distributing 10,000 food rations to orphans, widows and destitute families in the poorest and most disadvantaged areas in Lebanon. “This project is encouraging and gives hope to people,” he said.

Khair said that there are 100,000 people in need in Bab Al-Tabbaneh district alone, pledging to commit to transparency during the implementation of the project. “It is not a question of sectarian balance; we are focused on those who are most in need,” he said.

The signed agreements include one for repairing, equipping, and operating the Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Center for Dialysis at the Makassed General Hospital, an agreement with the UNHCR worth $5 million to implement a project for assisting the most affected Syrian families for six months, an agreement to support Souboul Assalam Association in Akkar (northern Lebanon), an agreement with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to implement a project worth $3.8 million to cover the needs of Syrian families that are below the poverty line for a year, and an agreement with UNRWA to cover the medical needs and treatment of cancer and multiple sclerosis in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said: “The challenge facing UNRWA after the reduction of its budget is maintaining the operation of its 715 schools in the Middle East.”

“Saudi Arabia is a key partner for us, and owing to its help, we will be able to help cancer and multiple sclerosis patients,” he said.