King Khalid International is graced with a pair of parallel runways (oriented 15/33), each measuring 13,796 ft. These ultra-long strips are common in the Middle East due to soaring summer temperatures, aggravated at OERK by the airport's elevation. Keiswetter, again: “When the runway temperature is 135F at Riyadh — at 2,049 ft. elevation — it's enough to limit climb performance, so you may have to take less fuel departing if it's that hot.”
As a result, some operators shift their entire lifestyles into the nighttime hours during summer months, making their departures at night. “We do a lot of night flying [at Rizon Jet] during the summer,” Keiswetter said. “In the worst of the summer, on an average day, it will be 120 deg. but 105 at night. The closest alternate to Riyadh is Dammam, about 45 min. away, so you should plan on having sufficient reserves flying in there.”
Which brings up the question of whether to fuel up at this busy airport upon arrival, knowing the aircraft may be sitting in 135-deg. ramp temperatures at near gross weight during your visit, or to wait until just before leaving and competing with the airlines for a fuel truck. “We play it by ear,” said Keiswetter. “In the summer if you depart after 0800 or before 1900, it isn't hard to get fuel. If we know we have to make an early morning departure, we will fuel up early — showing up 2 hr. [before departure] to allow an extra hour for a fuel truck to arrive.”
In terms of flight planning for Saudi Arabia, Tim Bartholomew, manager, international trip support operations at Rockwell Collins Flight Information Systems, urged operators to begin their preparations early. In addition to overflight and landing permits, a sponsor letter is required by the Saudi government for foreign visitors intending to do business in the country. “The sponsor letter has to be written by a Saudi Arabian citizen or someone located in the country and must be on the sponsor's letterhead,” he said. “Handlers can tell you how to write it, and they will present it to the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority.” (See accompanying “City at a Glance” sidebar for a rundown of necessary documents for entering Saudi Arabia.)
Contract pilot Gault advised operators to “make sure you have the permits and permit numbers handy. Sometimes the permit number isn't sent up to ATC [from CAA], and the controllers will ask you for it. Make sure you have Gen Decs [General Declarations] listing the crew names and signed by the PIC and that you have crew IDs for all members of the crew. Have copies of all the necessary documents on board the aircraft [e.g., aircraft registration, airworthiness certificate, RVSM cert, insurance coverage, etc.]. However, ramp inspections are rare in Saudi Arabia.”
And the actual flight must be planned so that the visiting aircraft does not overfly or stop first in Israel or Saudi authorities will prohibit it from entry into their airspace. “Coming from Europe, your likely shot will be across Egypt and the Red Sea, then into Saudi Arabia,” Gault said. “The only trouble with Egypt is they don't have enough controllers, so you may experience delays in making contact.”
In his Middle East operations, Gault said he has experienced dust storms in Riyadh and while crossing Egypt. “In the former case, we delayed our departure from Riyadh, and ATC was very cooperative in accommodating us.”
King Khalid International Airport is one of the largest and most modern in the world (not uncommon for the oil-rich Middle East where each country tries to outdo its neighbors with spectacular public works projects). More than 14 million airline passengers pass through its three terminals (a fourth remains unused) annually, and its 266-ft. control tower ranks as one of the highest in aviation. On its expansive grounds is a mosque that can accommodate 10,000 worshipers (half outside in a plaza) and 5.4 million sq. ft. of lavish landscaping. In the general aviation area is a private boarding area for members of the Royal Family and maintenance facilities for business aircraft and the Royal Saudi Air Force.
On the ground, not only in Saudi Arabia generally but in the capital specifically, non-Muslim foreign visitors must always be aware of religious and cultural strictures, including a complete prohibition of alcohol in the country and the full coverage of women in public. “The country is very restrictive,” Bartholomew pointed out, “and the wisest approach is to be conservative in all things. Make sure the liquor is locked up on the aircraft and that all women crew and passengers are covered and escorted by a man at all times.”
Gault emphasized the importance of the latter: “Make sure your women crewmembers [including pilots] have abayas to wear before they deplane.” (The FBOs in Saudi Arabia can provide the head-to-foot garments for a reasonable fee.) Going out to dinner, he said, “women must be seated in a family section, and not all restaurants have them. At Jeddah, it's much more liberalized due to the business climate.” But in the capital, the streets are patrolled by the Mutaween, the religious police who enforce these rules, so visitors should govern themselves accordingly.