Continued aviation shutdown takes toll on Yemen

By Faisal Darem in Sanaa


A Yemeni security guard walks on the tarmac at Sanaa's International Airport after its reopening to UN and other humanitarian flights on August 16th. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The suspension of civil aviation activity in Yemen due to the war and the violence perpetrated by extremist groups such as al-Qaeda has led to massive economic losses and has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, officials said.

Since the start of the war in March 2015, the civil aviation sector has suffered direct losses of more than $500 million, General Authority of Civil Aviation and Meteorology Undersecretary Yahya al-Sayani said in a statement.

The sector also has suffered "indirect losses due to the decline in aviation activity, represented in the number of passengers and flights, and volume of air freight, which has declined by 95% since the start of the war", he added.

The authority has taken various actions, he said, including repairing the Sanaa airport runway, which has been targeted numerous times, to ensure the continuity of navigation services.

The authority has covered the cost of operating the Aden, Seiyun and Socotra airports despite financial difficulties and the deteriorating security situation, he said.

Last month, between 15 and 20 al-Qaeda elements dressed in military uniforms penetrated a military headquarters at Aden airport after detonating two car bombs, killing at least 10 soldiers. Yemeni forces were able to regain control of the area, killing about six al-Qaeda elements while the others fled.

Earlier this year, Yemeni and coalition forces recaptured al-Mukalla airport in Hadramaut province from al-Qaeda, with the first flight in more than a year arriving May 8th to deliver medical aid.

Al-Sayani called on the UN to continue to work towards bringing about an end to the war and lifting the blockade, particularly on civil aviation, which provides services to travelers and Yemeni citizens at home and abroad.

Impact on medical services

The war shut down all Yemen's land and sea ports, magnifying the importance of air freight, which became the main channel for urgent medical and humanitarian aid, said Mazen Ghanem, director of air freight at the authority.

The suffering of Yemeni patients has increased dramatically since the war started, he told Al-Mashareq, because of the halt in civil aviation for months at a time and the drop in air traffic to an irregular trickle of individual flights.

Many patients were accustomed to traveling abroad for treatment due to the inadequacy of local medical services, he said, and the difficulties associated with irregular flights prompted those who were able to leave to stay outside the country rather than return to complete their treatment.

Business owner Abdo Mohammed, 57, told Al-Mashareq he was finally able to return to Yemen after spending six months in India receiving treatment for cancer.

Before leaving for India, he said, he suffered immensely in Yemen due to the lack of medicine and medical services, in addition to waiting for the outgoing flight which was postponed several times.

The increase in airline ticket prices to almost double made things worse, he said, adding that the return trip was very difficult and was postponed several times.

Economic losses

In a statement responding to complaints about its poor service, Yemeniya airlines said it had performed with distinction considering it was still operating under war conditions.

The number of air routes has been reduced dramatically, as has the company's hours of daily operations, which is not economically viable, and does not cover operating expenses, the statement said.

The statement also noted the financial obligations the company incurs, such as insurance premiums, which have risen due to the current situation and the reluctance of other airlines to operate in Yemen.

Additionally, the circumstances of the war have forced the company to move its fleet to airports in other Arab countries, the statement said, and this necessitates the payment of parking and maintenance expenses.

The suspension of civil aviation for months at a time, the irregular flight schedule and suspension of flights to Yemen by other airlines is a burden shouldered by the national carrier, economist Abdul Jalil Hassan said.

Both the private and public sectors are incurring economic losses, he told Al-Mashareq, noting that the public sector lost customs and tax revenues from these ports.

The stoppage of imports and exports via air freight has caused a decline in the gross output of the state and the private sector and exacerbated humanitarian suffering in all aspects, he added.

UN Chief Ban Ki-moon last week repeated his call for all sides in the conflict in Yemen to "immediately cease all hostilities" and return to direct talks, which were suspended in early August, AFP reported.

"Civilians, including children, are paying the heaviest price in the ongoing conflict, as civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, continue to be hit," he said.

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