The airports in Madinah, Taif and Abha are hazardous for landing and takeoff due to their topography, say pilots.
A local publication has quoted a number of flight captains as saying that these airports are challenging. This has prompted the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) to insist that only professional pilots fly aircraft to and from these airports. “Copilots are prevented by GACA from flying here,” the publication said.
A Saudia pilot spoke about the difficulties faced by pilots flying toward the new Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Airport, which is located between two mountains. “The airport is located on the south side near volcanic areas, which interact with air temperatures in summer and cause imbalances in air density.” He referred to individual solutions such as communications with the air tower to warn pilots to take a much higher altitude to avoid the volcanic area. “Most pilots are aware of this and are thus capable of avoiding any catastrophe.”
Another pilot referred to the negative effects on the aircraft’s engines because of the variation in air density. “Such situations pose a threat to the flight unless the air navigation crew is well trained to fly aircraft in such conditions.”
A pilot with a Saudi private airliner classified the two airports in Taif and Abha among the airports located at the highest points above sea level. “Abha airport is more than 6,000 feet above mean sea level, and the two airports are surrounded by dangerous mountains.”
He linked the altitude of the airports with the performance of plane engines, saying: “Such airports suffer from the problem of difference in air pressure and oxygen saturation, which in turn have an impact on fuel combustion and engine performance.”
A GACA official said there is no reason to worry about these flights. “All pilots are highly trained to fly to these airports. In any case, civil aviation authorities prevent such flights by copilots. All local and international air crew are fully aware of the air navigation bulletins before the launch of any flight.”