There’s an improving airspace risk picture in Saudi Arabia since a ceasefire was agreed in April – which has now been extended to Aug 2. All groups have agreed to halt the conflict inside and outside Yemeni borders. The first month of the ceasefire saw no reported drone strikes in Saudi Arabia.
However, long-standing airspace warnings remain in place. If the conflict resumes, Houthi drone and missile attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia pose a potential threat to ops at Saudi airports, and for overflights of the OEJD/Jeddah FIR. The most significant risk is in the south of the country along the border with Yemen, but OERK/Riyadh and OEJN/Jeddah airports have also been targeted in the past.
Back in March 2021, OEJN/Jeddah Airport closed temporarily following multiple attempted drone attacks. Saudi media reported dozens of drones were intercepted in their airspace, and the US Embassy also issued a statement. OERK/Riyadh Airport was targeted in June 2020 and again in October.
Much of the information comes from state media and cannot always be independently verified. In 2017, a New York Times investigation suggested that at least one of the most high-profile attacks from that year may not have been “shot-down” or intercepted by Saudi defense systems at all.
Saudi Arabia Airspace Risk
With the ceasefire now in place, we’re waiting to see if any of the countries who have issued airspace warnings for Saudi Arabia will amend their guidance.
Germany and Canada warn of a risk to landing anywhere in the country, but particularly along the border with Yemen in the southwest part of the OEJD/Jeddah FIR. France has issued similar advice, with the specific warning not to operate to OEAB/Abha, OEGN/Jazan, OENG/Nejran, OESH/Sharurah, OEWD/Wadi Al Dawasir and OEBH/Bisha airports:
A note on Yemen
The first month of the ceasefire saw notably reduced hostilities in Yemen, and commercial flights resumed at OYSN/Sanaa Airport for the first in six years.
However, Yemen remains an active conflict zone, and the vast majority of Yemeni airspace (OYSC/Sanaa FIR) should be avoided. Several countries have prohibited flights here due to the ongoing conflict on the ground. The oceanic portion of the OYSC/Sanaa FIR is excluded from most warnings, by nature of being offshore. The guidance issued by the US FAA currently looks like this:
Essentially, US operators are banned from flying north of a line KAPET-NODMA-ORBAT-PAKER-PARIM-RIBOK. The US FAA specifically mentions UT702 and M999 as being ok to use.
Watch out for ESCAT
You might know this as SCATANA. ESCAT is the new name, but the process is the same – if you’re overflying the OEJD/Jeddah FIR and hear “ESCAT RULES ARE NOW ACTIVE” (or something to that effect) you need to be aware that these apply to you!
You will likely be given a change of route directly out of the airspace, or will be directed to land at the nearest suitable aerodrome. The purpose is to clear the affected airspace of all civilian aircraft at which point they close down all nav aids and airports until the threat has been dealt with.
ESCAT procedures are published in GEN 1.6 of Saudi Arabia’s AIP. If you don’t have a login, you can see the relevant section here. There are some special routes that you have to fly in the southern part of the OEJN/Jeddah FIR, as advised by Notam, and you can find these in AIP SUP 02/21.
SafeAirspace.net continues to provide up-to-date information for both Saudi and Yemen airspace.
More on the topic:
- More: The Israel-Saudi Overflight Headache
- More: Middle by Middle East
- More: Has The Yemen Conflict Reached The UAE?
- More: Yemen: Airstrike on Sanaa Airport
- More: Saudi Ops for Hajj 2021