A total of 465 Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) flights were canceled between Wednesday and Friday last week, which constitutes 33 percent of the 1,526 scheduled flights by the carrier.
An additional 678 flights were delayed while 19 others were rerouted to other destinations as a result of the sandstorms that hit the Eastern Province and Riyadh Region. An additional 94 flights have been scheduled to compensate for the delays and cancelations.
Cloudy and dusty weather continued to affect air traffic but to a lesser degree on Saturday. Saudia apologized to its passengers and noted in a statement that it will honor all tickets and passengers will be able to use them at their preference.
Saudia said all of its operations, aviation and commercial departments have been placed on alert round the clock to solve any problems that may arise due to inclement weather conditions.
On Wednesday, all 27 flights to and from Riyadh were canceled. Some 25 other scheduled and non-scheduled flights were diverted to King Fahd International Airport in Dammam but with poor visibility reported in the Eastern Province, the flights were re-diverted to airports in Bahrain, Doha, Qatar and Muscat, Oman.
Saudi Arabian Airlines allocates 70 percent of its resources to serve domestic flights at 27 airports throughout the Kingdom. However, the sandstorms affected all airports in the Central, Eastern, Northern and Southern regions, leaving passengers stranded at airports.
Due to aviation regulations that require crews to take compulsory breaks, the airline faced a shortage of crew and asked several captains, who were on vacation to return to work. Haj and Umrah aircraft were also used to clear the backlog.
The General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) noted in a statement earlier that it is monitoring the sector and following up with the airlines to ensure they are providing accommodation and food to stranded passengers.
The GACA noted in a statement that the sandstorm caused the cancellation of 183 flights and delaying 734 others. The report said the cancellation and delays were a result of the disruption of aviation traffic in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam.
The King Khalid airport was the most affected by the storm with 98 canceled and 484 delayed flights. The airport served 1,64,500 affected passengers over three days starting April 1. They have also collected 1,000 luggage pieces that would be send to passengers.
The King Abdul Aziz airport in Jeddah provide accommodation for 3,100 passengers, following delay to 174 flights and only 9 transferred flights. The condition in Dammam was no different with 85 canceled flights and 75 delayed ones.
GACA noted that they were on alert during these days and had called on all its employees to be available at the airport to aid and serve passengers. It also initiated 94 replacement flights, provided transportation and used Boeings 747 and Airbus 330 to meet the demand of at least 28,400 passengers stuck in the airports.
The Kingdom is expected to face additional sandstorms. Both the Presidency for Metrology and Environment (PME) as well as the Civil Defense have warned people living in Al-Jouf, Hail, Northern Borders, Qasim and Riyadh regions of severe cloudy and dusty weather.
The Eastern Province and Najran region are also expected to be affected by the storms, which authorities have described as the worst to hit the country in the past decade.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on April 6, 2015.