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Wed 7 Nov 2007 02:26 AM

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Air regulator fends off growing PR crisis

Saudi civil aviation authority forced to defend restructure as it comes under fire from press.

Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority has been forced to defend plans to restructure the kingdom’s aviation sector following a string of incidents that are threatening to snowball into a public relations crisis for the body.

President of the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) Abdullah Ruhamimi has been under pressure from the Saudi press over delays to a new Jeddah airport, and deterioration of services in the current North terminal where several travelers died over the past two months due to overcrowding.

The public has expressed concerns about the future of the sector after two new private carriers were introduced with services not matching up to national airline Saudia.

Domestic travelers have complained that they were unable to use government vouchers to fly free with the new airlines, Nas Air and Sana Airlines, which have taken over a number of key Saudia routes.

Ruhaimi told press the new airlines were obliged to offer the same level of services as Saudi Arabian Airlines.

"The two airlines are required to provide the same services and the same number of flights and seats for the new routes that they took over from Saudi Arabian Airlines. This was part of the agreement that GACA made with them," said Ruhaimi.

"The new mandatory routes that GACA assigned to Sama airlines and Nas Air (also called public service obligation routes) were not profitable for Saudia thus we offered them to the new carriers; however, the carriers still need to provide the same quality on these routes" he continued.

According to Ruhaimi 63 public service obligation routes had contributed to the losses of Saudia. “Saudia was recovering the losses on those domestic routes from its profit on the international routes” he said.

“We have to break the psychological barrier that hindering the people from using and trusting the new airlines,” Ruhaimi added.

The press had called for the acceleration of work at a new terminal to end the problems that passengers are facing with the North and South terminals.

Ruhaimi said GACA had built a SR300 million ($80 million) expansion lounge to the existing South terminal to ease traffic but that no changes had been made to the North terminal from where foreign airlines operate. Saudi Arabian Airlines is the only airline operating from the South terminal.

Ruhaimi pledged conditions at Saudi airports would improve in coming years following restructuring.
“The plan will turn all the Kingdom’s airports in profitable business organizations by 2015, and they will be under the umbrella of a national airport company that GACA intends to establish soon” he said.

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