March 7, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – Sources within Sudan’s government have dismissed rumours that aviation companies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) intend to halt flights to Sudan by September.
- Fly Dubai airline (jaunted)
According to reports circulated widely on social media on Thursday, Etihad Airways, Gulf Air, Fly Dubai, Air Arabia were among the airlines planning to suspend flights to Khartoum by September, saying the date was dictated by advance bookings already received.
There are also reports that Saudi Arabian Airlines intends to halt its flights to Sudan due to the high cost of jet fuel, the difficulties with financial credits and their impact on foreign investors who travel to Sudan, as well as problems within the banking system which negatively impacts airfreight, along with export and import trade.
However, a government official with close ties to the aviation industry in Sudan denied that airline companies had notified authorities of their plans to suspend flights, noting that the rumours coincided with worsening relations between Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, although Qatar continues to remain a close ally.
According to sources, Khartoum had previously received requests from Qatar Airways to increase its flights to Sudan to three per week, adding that several Saudi aviation companies had submitted similar requests.
Saudi Arabia and some European banks suspended their dealings with Sudan as of 28 February.
Last week, the head of external relations for Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party’s (NCP), al-Dirdeeri Mohamed Ahmed, admitted that his country’s ties with Saudi Arabia are strained in the wake of Riyadh’s decision to bar its banks from dealing with their Sudanese counterparts.
However, there have been signs that relations between Khartoum and Riyadh have been deteriorating for a number of years.
Last August, Saudi Arabia closed its airspace to a plane carrying Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir en route to Iran, where he was scheduled to attend the inauguration ceremony of president-elect Hassan Rouhani, thus forcing him and his delegation to return home.
Observers speculated that Sudan’s growing ties with Iran could have irked the Saudis, prompting them to block Bashir’s flight.
Sudan has allowed Iranian warships to dock in Port Sudan three times over the past year-and-a-half, drawing concern by the US and its allies in the Gulf.
The mostly Sunni Muslim Arab Gulf states are wary of Iranian influence in the Middle East, fearing the Shiite-led country is seeking regional dominance that will stir sectarian tensions.
The Syrian conflict has also increased the divide between the two sides, with Arab monarchies supporting the rebels and Iran backing the Al-Assad regime.
Bashir, who performed the Muslim Hajj (pilgrimage) last year, did not meet with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz during the visit, despite the Saudi monarch holding separate talks with the Turkish and Pakistani presidents who were also performing Hajj.