Saudi Arabia has outlined its plans to restart international travel in and out of the kingdom over the coming months. The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has set May 17th as the date when the kingdom’s airports can reopen to facilitate cross-border journeys.
A new dawn for international travel
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has set a date and outlined its plans to reopen its international travel terminals this May. According to Gulf News, the GACA will lift its suspension of international flights in just over two months, allowing airports to reopen on May 17th. The new measures are set to come into effect at 01:00 local time on this date.
This will not only increase traffic into the kingdom, but also allow Saudi citizens to travel abroad once again. Despite this positive step forward, the GACA remains understandably keen to enforce preventative measures to minimize the spread of coronavirus. This should prevent a new rise in cases that might otherwise lead to another suspension.
The GACA has placed great importance on “[adhering] to the preventive protocols and precautionary measures, as well as instructions issued by the concerned higher committee in this regard to stem the spread of coronavirus.” The Saudi government will also make exceptions to the resumption by suspending flights to and from countries that it considers dangerous in terms of spreading COVID-19, due to aspects such as high case rates, or mutated variants.
An ongoing, suspension-riddled saga
The resumption of international travel in Saudi Arabia has been a long, ongoing process since it was first halted. An initial two-week ban came into place around this time last year. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic also prevented international Haj pilgrims from visiting Mecca last year. Such travelers will be allowed to make this journey in 2021, but only if they are vaccinated.
Just a week after banning international flights, Saudi Arabia also decided to ground domestic services. These measures were eventually eased on an internal level two months later. Later in 2020, September saw the kingdom take a more targeted approach. At this time, it banned arrivals from specific COVID-19 hotspots, including India, Brazil, and Argentina.
Following another temporary two-week suspension over the new year, the reopening was postponed again in late January. Gulf News reports that this was due to delays in vaccine deliveries. Otherwise, the restart date was set to have been March 31st, rather than May 17th.
Another recent development in Saudi aviation
The announcement from the GACA isn’t the only piece of good news for Saudi Arabia as far as commercial aviation is concerned. Earlier this month, the kingdom granted recertification for the Boeing 737 MAX, joining a fast-growing list of territories to have done so. Saudi Arabia has seen multiple coronavirus-induced international flight suspensions since its first last March. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
Saudi Arabia is only home to a small number of airlines. None of these operate or have ordered Boeing’s latest narrowbody series. Nonetheless, the move will be welcomed by carriers from neighboring countries. Such airlines can now overfly Saudi airspace with their MAX aircraft.