Business Aviation Trip Planning Tips: Saudi Arabia
For business aircraft operators, missions to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are easy to facilitate with sufficient advance planning. There are, however, issues to consider in terms of permits, visas, and sponsor letter requirements. Particularly for first-time operators to the region, it’s important to work with your 3rd-party provider and ground handler early in the planning process.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Popular destinations in Saudi Arabia
The most frequented destinations in the country for general aviation are Jeddah (OEJN), Riyadh (OERK), and Dammam (OEDF). All are 24/7 Airports of Entry (AOEs). OEJD and OERK have Fixed-Base Operators (FBOs) and full services available. However, OEDF does not have an FBO, and the availability of ground support equipment is limited. In-flight catering and local transport options are also limited at OEDF. When you operate to this location, it’s best to check in advance to determine service availability.
2. Landing permits are required for Saudi Arabia
Landing permits are needed for all private non-revenue and charter (non-scheduled commercial) operations to Saudi Arabia. So long as all required information is submitted with the initial request, the recommended lead time for landing permits is three days. Short-notice requests may be possible, but the process is slower outside of normal Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) operating hours. While CAA operates 24 hours, things often slow down at night and over holiday periods. Note that permit validity is +48 hours. If you require a permit revision – including for changes to departure and destination (before or after a Saudi Arabia landing) – plan on at least 24 hours’ advance notification. When making permit/revision requests, be mindful that weekends in Saudi Arabia changed from Thursday and Friday to Friday and Saturday, effective June 2013.
3. Saudi Arabian overflight permits
Overflight permits are always required when traversing the Saudi Arabian airspace. While the actual routing is not important, for permit purposes destination and departure points must always be provided.
4. Visa and documentation requirements
Depending on nationality, visas may be required for passengers and crew members. Visas on arrival may be possible for crew members (not passengers), but this is limited to a max stay of 72 hours. It’s important to check in advance to ensure you meet visa-on-arrival requirements. For crew visas on arrival, you’ll need to submit copies of passports to airport authorities and plan on 48 hours’ advance notification. As visas on arrival cannot be extended unless it’s an emergency, it’s always best practice to have visas prior to arrival. Note that a letter from a local Saudi national sponsor is required in order to obtain visas and landing permits. Always ensure that you provide a cell phone contact number for your sponsor as authorities will contact him or her.
5. CIQ clearance considerations
Customs clearance is normally accomplished either in an FBO or within the main commercial terminal. Planeside or onboard clearance may be possible in Saudi Arabia, depending on the person onboard and purpose of the flight, but that needs to be set up in advance.
6. Tech stop considerations
For tech stops you’ll need a landing permit but not a visa, and the customs clearance process will be abbreviated. Tech stops are frequently made in Saudi Arabia – and fuel prices here are attractive – with OEJN and OERK being the most popular options. Keep in mind that if you have an aircraft on ground, it may be an issue trying to arrange a last-minute visa on arrival.
7. Be aware of travel restrictions
Direct operations between Saudi Arabia and Israel are strictly forbidden as are overflights of Saudi Arabian airspace for operators to/from Israel. Aircraft built in Israel are not able to travel anywhere in the Saudi Arabian territory. Note that any direct travel between Saudi Arabia and Syria is carefully scrutinized by CAA and may not be possible.
8. Cabotage and airport considerations
While cabotage is not an issue in Saudi Arabia, it’s always important to advise your ground handler who will be onboard each leg and to ensure that passport information is provided. It’s recommended that crew members/passengers onboard do not have Israeli stamps in their passports. Smaller airports in Saudi Arabia often have operating curfews. Airport hours will not be extended except in the event you have certain VIPs or medical emergencies, onboard. Note that military airports will only provide access to approved military flights or flights with certain dignitaries onboard. Domestic operations within Saudi Arabia are not an issue, but you must operate inbound/outbound via an AOE. Note that Medina (OEMA) scrutinizes any requests for operations to this location.
9. Plan hotel accommodations, local transport, and in-flight catering early
It’s best for crew to stay at international chain hotels. There are an abundance of 4- and 5-star accommodation options in Jeddah and Riyadh, but options are more limited at Dammam. During Hajj, Ramadan, and other local holiday periods, it may be difficult to book hotel accommodations and preferred local transport options. Pre-paid transportation (car with driver) is the recommended option for local transport. It’s best to avoid public taxis unless the particular service is recommended by your ground handler. In-flight caterers are available at both Jeddah and Riyadh, but it’s always best to provide plenty of advance notice of catering requests. During the month-long Ramadan holiday – when Muslims do not consume food or drink during daylight hours – it’s best to provide at least 48-72 hours’ advance notification for catering.
10. Cultural sensitivity is important
While you are in Saudi Arabia, it’s important to dress conservatively and avoid wearing revealing clothing. No alcohol is permitted within the country. If you have alcohol onboard, it must be in a locked cabinet. Airport authorities will add a tamper-proof seal after you’ve locked up any onboard liquor. Be sure to put away any onboard reading materials that may contain images of skin exposure. It’s recommended that any female flight crew member sit in the right seat, even if she’s the pilot in command, due to cultural norms in the country. When you are off-airport, it’s not a problem to walk around as long as you pay attention to your surroundings and cultural norms, but female crew members should always be accompanied by men and dressed conservatively. This country has a conservative culture – for instance, there are often separate areas in hotels for men, women, and families – however, certain exceptions are made for non-Saudi crew members.
If you’ve not traveled to Saudi Arabia before, it’s best to allow at least three weeks’ lead time to make arrangements for permits, visas, sponsor letters, etc. Visas can take time to arrange. Ensure you receive a thorough brief from someone who’s traveled to Saudi Arabia before, and always pay attention to cultural norms when visiting this location.
If you have any questions about this article or about operations to Saudi Arabia, contact me at email@example.com.