Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — The change of flight routes to avoid conflict zones and ensure safety of passengers and aircraft poses a big challenge for commercial airline companies as it would increase the duration of flights and a subsequent increase in fuel consumption.
Flying over conflict zones will also raise insurance premiums on aircraft.
According to regulations issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which determines flight routes, airlines overflying conflict zones that exceed 2.2 million square meters have to re-route, resulting in an increase in flight duration.
Saudi pilot Sualiman Al-Muhaimadi said the Yemen war will have no impact on flight routes as most airlines overfly Oman or Red Sea to reach destinations in Africa.
“Yemen lacks multiple air corridors. Consequently, the military confrontation in the country does not have much effect on the routes of Gulf airlines, including Saudia,” Al-Muhaimadi told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.
Speaking about conflict zones in Iraq, Syria and Libya, Al-Muhaimadi said: “They have considerable negative impact and many airlines had to change routes. Duration of flights from Riyadh to London has increased by half an hour as a result.”
Flight time from Riyadh to Antakya in Turkey is normally 2 hours and 10 minutes, but it is more than 3.5 hours now, he added.
Al-Muhaimadi said the increase in flight time meant a hike in fuel consumption and could also disrupt flight schedules.
“If an airline operates 100 flights daily and if half an hour is added to each flight due to no-fly zones, it has to fly an additional 50 hours daily. The cost of flying for Airbus A320 aircraft is an average of $18,000 per hour, which means the extra flight time caused by re-routing would substantially increase costs for airline companies,” he explained.
ICAO determines no-fly zones to ensure the safety of passengers and aircraft, Al-Muhaimadi said.
Airlines have been given the option of either diverting to a new route fixed by the organization or flying at a higher altitude to avoid potential threats. The type of weapons and equipment used by belligerents will determine the extent of the no-fly zone, he added.
Al-Muhaimadi said the flight time from Riyadh to Beirut has increased by one hour in order to avoid flying over Syria. Before the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Riyadh-Beirut flight took 1 hour and 55 minutes. Now it requires 3 hours as the route is diverted to fly over Red Sea and Sharm El-Sheikh before joining the previous route.
“Each country determines the air route in its air space in coordination with ICAO,” he said.
Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Salman, an aviation expert, said ICAO meets periodically to review airline safety conditions. The organization has asked governments to furnish it with relevant information about possible threats to civil aviation.
The governments are also requested to inform the organization about any new conflicts to ward off potential threats and ensure aviation safety. ICAO has introduced a new system to ensure speedy exchange of information.
Meanwhile, an informed source at the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said Iraq, Syria and Libya have not prevented commercial airlines from using their air space despite ongoing conflicts in these countries because the United Nations has not declared them as no-fly zones. As a result, ICAO is not in a position to reroute flights overflying these countries.
Economic analyst Dr. Fadl Al-Bouainain said many airlines were facing a financial crisis as a result of no-fly zones but they are unable to increase fares because of stiff competition. However, the rerouting provides passengers greater security and safety.
Airlines normally raise fares to compensate for additional expenditures but some of them will not hike the price considering the rerouting as a temporary measure. But if the situation continues for a long time they will be forced to increase the fares, Al-Bouainain said.
“Airlines will think a dozen times before hiking prices because of the tough competition,” he added.