Saudi Arabia Overflights – Free Route Gotcha

By Chris Shieff


Key Points
  • The Southeastern section of the OEJD/Jeddah FIR is now Free Route Airspace.
  • It’s not straightforward. New procedures have been published in the Saudi AIP.
  • If your flight plan does not comply, you are likely to be instructed to descend below FL300.


We’ve received a new report from an OPSGROUP member after a recent run-in with ATC in the OEJD/Jeddah FIR.

The problem stemmed from a small (and confusing) change that became effective on April 18.

Essentially, ATC were upset that their filed route did not comply with newly published Free Route Airspace (FRA) procedures buried deep within the bowels of the Saudi AIP.

The fallout of non-compliance is the ATC equivalent to the ‘naughty corner’ with aircraft directed to descend below FL300 for the duration of their crossing of the affected airspace.

In this case, the member was able to negotiate to remain at their preferred level but not before a fair amount of head scratching as to why they got in trouble in the first place.

As large amounts of traffic are now transiting Saudi Arabia to avoid Iran further north, it is especially relevant right now.

New Free Route Airspace

On April 18, a large chunk of Southeastern Saudi Arabia (known as the SE Sector) became Free Route Airspace (FRA).

Typically, FRA means that pilots can freely plan any route they like between defined entry and exit points without reference to the ATS route network. This saves both money and time – simple.

However, this is where things get hazy.

The change was notified in this easily overlooked FIR Notam:

This directs you to the Saudi AIP. This is great if you have a spare half an hour to prove who you are, download a special app and access it. To save you the trouble, the relevant bit is ENR 2.2.4 which you can find here.

Click for PDF.

Here’s the kicker – it’s Free Route Airspace, but not really. You still need to plan and file via the standard routes found via the link above.

In other words – ‘fly whatever route you like, as long as it is one of these ones.’

Turns out if you don’t, they will want you out of the ‘FRA’ which means a descent below FL300 (or a climb above FL600 if you’re piloting the Space Shuttle).

Keep listening out.

There are also some really specific comms requirements you need to follow along each route as the sector is controlled by several VHF frequencies. It seems you cannot rely on ATC to tell you when to switch.

“Normal” routes.

Don’t forget the Free Route Airspace only applies to the SE Sector of the Jeddah FIR. Everywhere else in Saudi airspace, you’ll need to follow “normal” ATS routes as per usual.

But even these “normal” routes are a pain. Saudi Arabia (like many other countries in the region) has preferred routes depending on where you’re flying from/to – so you’ll need to make sure you file on one of these. For some reason Jeppesen recently stopped publishing them, so now you have to get them from (yes, you guessed it) the Saudi AIP! SUP 8/24 talks about it. You basically download this Route Availability Doc and work out a route from there.

Other Free Route Airspace in the region.

Qatar and the UAE are the only other countries in the Middle East that have implemented FRA, and unlike Saudi Arabia, both seem fairly straightforward.

Qatar – has implemented a corridor of FRA straight through the middle of the OTDF/Doha FIR, available from FL275-460. The Qatar AIP does not currently list any restrictions on its use.

Click for PDF.

The UAE – has implemented FRA in parts of the OMAE/Emirates FIR from FL355-600 – basically the parts around all the airports, and the airspace connecting with the OOMM/Muscat and OIIX/Tehran FIRs. Like Qatar, the UAE AIP does not currently list any restrictions on its use.

Click for PDF.

Please report back.

Thank you to the member who got in touch.

These changes can be hard to spot. Especially when you pay an operational penalty for procedures like this one that are poorly written, hard to find, or obscure.

We need your help to spread the word whenever you come across something different – in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. Thousands of other like-minded pilots will thank you later.

If you have something you’d like to share, you can reach us on We’d love to hear from you.


More on the topic:

More reading:

Chris Shieff

Chris Shieff

OPSGROUP team member and Airbus pilot. Based in sunny Auckland, New Zealand. Question for us? Write to


  • Steve Thorpe says:

    Good heads-up, Chris. All three of these FRAs can also be found in the Jepp Air Traffic Control Data – Middle East pages, starting on page 325.

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