Flying in Saudi airspace should offer few surprises for newcomers, but operating on the ground poses surprises and challenges.
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Facilities in Riyadh & Jeddah
Riyadh King Khalid International Airport (OERK) serves the capital and is located 22 mi. north of the city. It has two parallel runways bracketing a four-terminal complex, 15R/33L and 15L/33R, each 13,796 ft. long (and once designated as emergency landing strips for the space shuttle). The airport is open 24 hr. daily and is a 45-min. drive from the city. No slots are required for access. “The general aviation apron [and dedicated terminal] is on the far east side of the airport,” Rowland said, “and so you typically land on the closest runway, 15L/33R.” The Royal Pavilion, located in the center of the airport, contains gardens and fountains and a ceremonial hall 1,280 ft. long that connects it with a domed mosque.
“Going into Riyadh,” Rowland recounted, “you'll get radar vectors to the ILS, usually a fairly long final - last time I was there, we had a 15-mi. final - very straightforward, so no need for speed control. There are full ILSes on both sides of the airport. At the general aviation ramp, large and well lighted at night, the handler will have a marshal waiting for you. You simply follow the yellow line to your marshal.
“When you look at the airport diagram,” Rowland continued, “you will see that the taxiways off the general aviation apron will go to Runway 15L/33R but not to the ends of the runway. Taxiway Hotel 4 goes to 15L and Hotel 1 goes to 33R; however, these intersections still allow at least 10,000 ft. of runway, so it is possible to do a safe intersection takeoff. Backtracking on the runway is not allowed, so to use the full runway, you would have to taxi to the ends. The ACN and PCN numbers should be checked ahead of time for really large aircraft.”
Jeddah King Abdulaziz Inter-national Airport (OEJN) lies 12 mi. north of the port city but, more significantly, at 45 mi. distance, is the closest major airport to Islam's holiest shine, Mecca, birthplace of Mohammed, and site of the Hajj, the obligatory pilgrimage for all Muslims. As such, the airport serves as terminus for some 13 million Muslims who visit the city and its environs annually. To accommodate the influx of pilgrims, the airport is equipped with a standalone five-million-sq.-ft. terminal dedicated specifically to the Hajj. Complete with its own mosque, it can house up to 80,000 passengers at a time. Two additional terminals host regular airline service. The airport recently relocated its general aviation terminal to the north side of the field. It is shared by Arabasco and Jet Aviation.
Jeddah International has three parallel runways: 16L/34R, 13,124 ft.; 16C/34C, 10,825 ft.; and 16R/34L, 12,467 ft. OEJN is a 24-hr. airport, with no slots required. It is approximately 25 to 45 min. from Jeddah's downtown, depending on traffic.
Ground support at the major airports is rated as good to excellent, but operators are cautioned that the pace of activity may be less than the expedience operators are accustomed to in North America. “People will take their time, but you can get what you need,” Foreman at Universal said. Keiswetter observed that “we remind ourselves to operate with patience. Things will go wrong. The crew that maintains their cool and keeps an over-the-top friendly attitude will have a much more pleasant experience while here. Learn peoples' first names. This is a must to having good relations here.”
And don't forget the bakshish. “I always flew with local currency for the country I was flying to, as tipping is common and expected in most places throughout the Middle East,” Mehew said. “However, once you put some money in a ramp worker's hand, they will be on you like flies . . . so be prepared. But it does work to tip . . . especially the ops supervisor who will usually meet the aircraft. At some FBOs, if tipping is not done, it may take you inordinate amounts of time to get your fuel or flight plan, even though the fuel truck is sitting there idling or your flight plan is simply [laying] behind the desk in ops.”
On arrival, operators' handling agents will be waiting for them at the generic general aviation terminal. Foreman claimed that even during the Hajj, parking will be plentiful. Fuel of good quality is always available (not surprisingly) and pricing is claimed to be competitive with sources in Europe and North America. Ramp security at the major airports is considered sufficiently effective that operators will not need to hire guards for their aircraft.-style security inspections of passengers and flight crewmembers and baggage examinations are conducted in the general aviation terminals both arriving and departing.
Nevertheless, due to the convenience offered by the general aviation terminals, processing in and out of Saudi Arabia can be reasonably easy. Rowland described how it goes at Riyadh: “We will typically have someone from our company and the sponsor meet us at the parking stand,” he began. “They pull up a car to the airplane, shake the passengers' hands, and usher them into the car; luggage is placed in the back of a pickup following the car. Passengers clear customs and immigration in the general aviation terminal, which is right in front of the ramp. Back on the ramp, the handler will have all the servicing waiting - lav, fueling, even ice if you've called ahead to arrange it. It's prompt and professional, and the people are familiar with general aviation aircraft. Turnaround typically is 45 min. No waiting.
“The crew is then escorted to the same terminal for customs and all the baggage is x-rayed,” Rowland continued. “It might be easier at Riyadh for the PIC, if direct billing has not been arranged, to have a credit card available to pay for services. Once you've arranged all this, you are free to go. Typically we have the handler arrange our ground transportation. You will have to show the temporary visa [or a regular one] to the hotel when you check in. The Intercontinental Hotel is 50 min. from the airport in rush hour traffic. The Four Seasons is closer, much nicer, and has better food; however, the Intercontinental has a nine-hole golf course.
“Leaving is very easy,” Rowland con-cluded. “The PIC will have to report to the ops office where the dispatcher will issue the pre-filed flight plan, weather, NOTAMs, the same stuff you get at any international airport. If on a temporary visa, you will now get your passports back. You report to the airplane, fire up the APU and wait for the passengers, who are driven directly to the airplane. From there, it's just like any other international departure. You should review your procedures ahead of time.”