FLYING HIGH

Saudi Arabia 2016 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Sulaiman bin Abdullah Al-Hamdan, Minister of Transport, on exciting projects under way in the aviation industry and protecting the rights of travelers.

HE Sulaiman bin Abdullah Al-Hamdan
BIOGRAPHY
HE Sulaiman bin Abdullah Al-Hamdan was President of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) before becoming the Minister of Transport. Currently he holds the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Authority of Civil Aviation, the Ports Authority, the Saudi Railways Organization, and the Saudi Arabian Airlines Public Institution. He holds a master’s degree in business administration.

What investment opportunities does the country's national aviation industry offer for national and foreign corporations?

The opportunities are plenty and varied. Every one of our civil aviation projects is open for private investment, with various business models that range from strategic partnerships to privatization. There are several major investment opportunities for private-sector investments offered by the national civil aviation industry. Five global consortiums are currently competing to win a contract for the new Taif Airport, based on the build-transfer-operate (BTO) business model. Negotiations with an investor are under way for the construction of Prince Naif Airport in Quassim, also based on the BTO model. Five global corporations are also in competition to operate the new King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. Swissport, meanwhile, has won the second license to offer ground services across the Kingdom's airports. The Dublin Airports Corporation won a contract to manage and operate the recently finished Terminal 5 at King Khalid International Airport, with an annual capacity of 12 million travelers. Airfreight and in-flight catering will soon be open to global competition. Work is also under way to open up commercial real estate investment in airport properties—based on the “airport city" model—to global competition, and to privatize the Prince Sultan Academy for Aviation Sciences. There is also work under way to privatize the Saudia Private Aviation Company, Saudia Real Estate Development Co. Ltd., and Saudia Medical Services Co. Ltd.

What reforms do you intend to introduce to improve the level of service the sector provides to customers?

We have many reforms in the pipeline, such as creating a separation between our legislative and oversight roles on the one hand, and the day-to-day running of operational and administrative businesses on the other. The idea here is for the authority to become only a legislative and regulating body, while operations are shifted over to the private sector. We are also improving air transport activities according to global best practices and putting our human resources to the best possible use. We have established a new department for customer protection and issued an executive code that establishes, in meticulous detail, the rights of air travelers, such as their right to receive care should their flights get delayed or canceled, and the right for those with special needs to receive attention onboard, among many others.

What measures need to be in place to enable airports across the country to accommodate the targeted 100 million travelers by 2020?

The authorities' strategic plan is fully in line with the 2030 Vision, one of the objectives of which is to privatize and enhance transparency for better services provided to all clients of the civil aviation industry. We started aggressive operational, investment, and service programs at every airport, with the aim being to enable airports to maximize their local potential. As for infrastructure, new airports are being built and existing ones are being expanded—a key aspect of the authority's strategy that aims to transform services by privatizing the civil aviation sector, turning every unit into a discrete, growing, and sustainable business that operates on a competitive basis. This will secure the rights of the general public and all other stakeholders and strengthen competition, which will ultimately reflect favorably on the Kingdom's civil aviation industry and overall market.

What are your targets for 2016?

The authority has established the Saudi Civil Aviation Holding Company, which will be in charge of the privatization process. By the end of 2016, we aim to privatize several airports and strategic units. Work is ongoing on a number of expansion and development projects at various airports all over the Kingdom. The completion deadlines for each of these projects, as set in their contracts, may be years away, but the work set to be competed in 2016 is right on schedule.