With everything arranged, the trip can commence. “Have your permit handy because [Saudi ATC] may challenge you for the number while you're still in the air,” Foreman advised. “As long as you have it set up, they won't bother you too much. But the permit is absolutely necessary.”

By all accounts, Saudi Arabia boasts one of the most modern ATC systems in the world, and according to Chuck Taylor, flight planning and following supervisor at Jeppesen, the country “received a lot of assistance from the U.S. in setting it up.” As mentioned, the system relies heavily on a network of preferred routes detailed in the Saudi AIP and the Middle East section of the Jeppesen Airway Manual. “It goes FIR to FIR based on where you're coming in and exiting,” Taylor said. “It will specify waypoints for overflight or to a specific destination within the country.” Mark O'Carroll, U.K. flight planning shift lead at Jeppesen's London office, added that, “There are very stringent routings for entry and exits from their airspace, very little direct routing, much like the European system of airways.”

Any airway preceded with a “V,” or referred to phonetically as “Victor,” is a domestic airway, Taylor continued. “There are conditional airways with time, day and holiday restrictions that coincide with military operating areas, but they are open outside of normal business hours. For the most part, it's radar vectoring in the terminal areas.”

ATC procedures are straightforward, DuPont's Hanlon said. “You should contact ATC prior to crossing the FIR boundary, but this may not be noted on the chart. After you enter Saudi airspace, you will be in continuous radar contact. ATC procedures during cruise are slightly different from the U.S. After your flight is identified at the entry point, ATC will instruct you to contact the next sector reaching a subsequent point along your route, and you make the handoff yourself. ATC typically won't talk to you in between reporting points. Controllers are easy to understand and good to work with.”

Dan Warnick, the Jeddah-based Global Express captain, also provided his take on Saudi ATC: “Crossing the FIR you probably won't notice any changes. Radio communication and radar coverage are decent, although it may take a couple calls before you get answered. Once answered you will probably have your routing and altitude restated and then you will be given your changeover point and frequency for the next controller, this all in one transmission. I heard a U.S. pilot complain to a controller yesterday, 'That is a lot of information to process!'”

Controllers are skilled, Warnick said, “but don't seem to get pumped up about moving traffic as quickly as possible. You will constantly find yourself thinking that you could have easily become airborne ahead of that traffic on a 4-mi. final or wondering why the ground controller isn't using those parallel taxiways to move traffic in both directions simultaneously. But hey, the system works for them.”

While most Saudi airports have published SIDs and STARs, Warnick claimed he's never flown a STAR in Saudi Arabia, “and the SIDs have all been the simple 'Alpha' (or some other letter) ones at the bottom of the SID list that are 'fly runway heading and climb to [altitude],' versus a multi-waypoint route with turns and crossing restrictions. The large airports have CPT [clearance pre-taxi] frequencies that I have never seen used. That makes ground control very busy at times with flight and taxi clearances all happening on the same frequency.”