Any place to land?

15-12-2011 09:06 AM

Mervat Ayoub


Budget flights to and from Medina and Cairo …


Since last April, there have been no direct flights between Cairo and the Saudi town of Medina. According to Sameh Hefni, head of the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA), the halt is the outcome of “differences in views” between the Saudi and the Egyptian companies, but that the strength of relations between the two countries will soon resolve the dilemma.


Local airports
Hefni explained that most international airports, Cairo Airport included, do not host budget flights. Local airports, he said, are governed by more flexible regulations and thus allow the landing of budget flights. Hefni explained that two privately-owned Egyptian agencies already have licenses from the Saudi Aviation Authority to fly to Saudi cities, such as Abha and Yanbu, several times a week, and that 21 EgyptAir flights land in the Jeddah Airport every week. During the Hajj and Umra (the minor hajj) seasons, flights peak to 56 per week, which is a very high number when compared to the number of flights which land in Medina.
The Umra season has severely suffered from the halt of the Cairo – Medina flights, and it appears that summer tourism in Egypt is also threatened, since the journey from Medina to Cairo now takes some 16 hours and is very costly.
The crisis, according to Alaa’ Ashour, head of EgyptAir, goes back to 2008 when the Saudi “Sama” and “Nas” agencies applied for permits to allow direct flights between Cairo and Medina. When the ECAA failed to furnish any reply, and after Saudi intervention, the Egyptian side said that allowing Saudi budget flights to and from Medina would incur negative economic repercussions where EgyptAir is concerned.


Open skies
Mr Ashour explained that EgyptAir had previously given permission to Saudi privately-owned airliners to land in Egyptian airports other than Cairo Airport, such as the Alexandria Airport which lies some 200km north west of Cairo. But this time the Saudi companies insisted on landing at Cairo Airport which, he said, complicated matters.
It’s business as usual for EgyptAir flights to other airports in Saudi Arabia said Mr Ashour. EgyptAir lands in Jeddah and transports passengers by coach to Medina.
Hossam Omran, who sits at the head of a charter flight agency based in Luxor, reminded that it is a worldwide rule that budget flights do not use the main airports used by national carriers and involved in the Open Skies protocol. In Egypt, he explained, charter flights, which run as budget flights, are more in demand by tourist groups and oil company employees flying from and to production sites. The flights are moreover closely monitored by specialised committees, he said.


WATANI International
20 June 2010





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