Flying in Saudi airspace should offer few surprises for newcomers, but operating on the ground poses surprises and challenges.
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The Same But Different
Bill Mehew, a retired captain, also did a stint piloting long-range business jets for a Jeddah-based operation, this one managed by a U.S. company. “I flew Part 91/135 and it is almost identical to operations in the States or Europe, he said. “If you operate under the same guidelines as home you should have no problems.” Currently, Mehew pilots a converted MD-87 for a private operator flying internationally.
But there are some differences about which visiting operators should be aware. “You do not call for your ATC clearance prior to engine start as is normally done in the States,” Mehew said. “You request engine start and ATC clearance at the same time, indicating your position, i.e., gate number or spot number. The clearance is then read to you during taxi, which can lead to a busy cockpit if the clearance is different than planned. Also, even though not instructed, you are expected to call the tower after landing and advise them that you are clear of the runway.”
A failure to report runway departure can result in an embarrassing lecture on the tower frequency and possible sanctions, Mark Keiswetter, who captains a Hawker 900XP for Rizon Jet in Doha, Qatar, added. Thus, forgetting to radio “N1234 is clear of the runway,” will “normally cause the tower controller to tell you harshly of [Saudi ATC's] requirement to do so and may evolve into a longer taxi route to the FBO.”
Mehew has his own opinion on ATC communications, which he said are generally good “but the language can be difficult to understand, especially the pronunciation of Arabic words. Unless I was familiar with the routing, I would use the phonetic identifiers to describe fixes and waypoints. 'Say again' was common practice. There can be small gaps in ATC coverage. If you cannot contact a controller, wait 2 to 3 min. and try again or have another aircraft relay your information until you obtain contact. This is something most pilots do anyway.”
Keiswetter also advises flight crews new to Saudi operations to exercise patience in all things and not to “expect the best” from the country's ATC. “They are as flawed at ATC as anywhere. It is common practice to be put into a position of being left at altitude too long and forced to make a steeper than desired approach. They will allow you to descend at the right time, but it is usually only upon the crew's request.”QNH altimetry is used in Saudi terminal areas. “The transition altitude is 13,000 ft.,” Hanlon said, “and the transition level is FL 150 at all Saudi airports. When climbing through 13,000 ft., you set your altimeter to 1013 hPa. When descending through FL 150, you set to the local QNH altimeter setting.”