In a drastic move, Saudi Arabia has decided to suspend all international flights for two weeks. The move comes as the country has seen a steady rise in coronavirus cases in the last few weeks. The new rule will come into effect on Sunday, with special arrangements being made for Saudi citizens and some flights.
A series of drastic moves
The last month has seen Saudi Arabia take a number of drastic measures to slow down the spread of the coronavirus within its borders. The country first banned all Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca, a journey undertaken by millions of devout Muslims every year. Following this, Saudi imposed a travel ban on neighboring Arab states, which was then expanded to include all EU countries and more. The latter decision came just three days ago, showing the speed with which the government has moved.
The travel ban will mean hundreds of citizens and residents may be unable to return to the Kingdom. For those unable to return or are in quarantine, the government will consider it an exceptional official holiday. The government has also announced that citizens wishing to return will be assisted in doing so and exceptional flights will be allowed to operate. Exceptional flights could include flights such as Emirates’ special service between Dubai and Saudi Arabia. However, that is not confirmed at the time of writing.
Airlines to suffer more
Saudi’s escalating travel restrictions have caused carriers to significantly cut their daily flights to and from the country. The latest decision means that all but a handful of international flights will continue to operate. Carriers like Saudia and budget carrier flynas will feel the pinch of this decision, which could prompt them to ground aircraft and trim costs.
Domestic travel, on the other hand, seems to be unaffected. Flynas actually began flying a new domestic route this week. However, carriers will struggle without international demand. We could see carriers requesting assistance from the government, as some carriers around the world have already begun doing. Some are even shutting down.
Saudi’s aggressive move to contain the virus may or may not work, but it will have repercussions for the entire Middle East. The country has recently begun opening up to tourists by introducing a new visa scheme, as a part of its broader plan to develop its tourism industry. It has new airports that are rapidly expanding and could become a new hub in the region. The virus, however, has put all these goals in the backseat and forced an emergency in the country. The aviation market will suffer in the short term but will hopefully rebound soon after.
While we are yet to see numbers for the impact these new restrictions will have on the aviation market, a precipitous drop in passengers and revenue will most certainly be observed. Airlines in Saudi Arabia, and those servicing it, will also see reductions in flights.