Sanaa International Airport has been closed to travelers since August 8th, but with flights delivering international aid arriving each day, local and international officials are calling for the airport to be reopened to passengers.
In a January 26th briefing to the UN Security Council, UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh called for the airport to be reopened for civilian passenger flights.
"The continued closure of Sanaa airport has added unnecessarily to the hardship" the Yemeni people are enduring, he said.
UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Stephen O'Brien also called on the parties to the conflict in Yemen to make an effort to reopen Sanaa International Airport.
Speaking at a January 16th press conference in Sanaa, UN Resident Co-ordinator/Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Yemen Jamie McGoldrick said the closure of Sanaa airport is "totally unacceptable" and has gone on for too long.
This has compounded the suffering of the Yemeni people, he said.
On January 29th, the Federation of Yemen Chamber of Commerce and Industry staged a protest in front of the UN headquarters in Sanaa to demand the reopening of the airport and resumption of commercial and passenger flights.
Relief flights continue
Flights delivering aid from the UN and affiliated humanitarian organisations are now occurring daily, Sanaa airport director Khalid al-Shaef told Al-Mashareq.
"Sanaa airport receives at least two flights a day by UN organisations and other relief organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF)," he said.
The airport operates "according to international standards", he added.
"The closure of Sanaa airport to passengers exacerbated the suffering of citizens, patients and other people who need to travel," al-Shaef said.
He said he is counting on the efforts being made by the UN and humanitarian organisations to have the airport reopened for general travel.
Passenger flights to Sanaa airport have been diverted to Aden airport and Seyoun airport in Hadramaut province, he said, adding that this presents a particular hardship to patients who need to travel abroad for treatment.
The journey to Seyoun airport takes about 15 hours overland from Sanaa, he said, in addition to security threats along the way that might hinder safe arrival.
Vital artery for travelers
"Sanaa airport is a vital artery for travelers and humanitarian relief, since it is located at the centre of the most populous Yemeni provinces," said Mazen Ghanem, director general of air transport at the General Authority for Civil Aviation and Meteorology.
"The Yemeni people are hopeful that the airport will be reopened to travelers at large," he told Al-Mashareq.
This is because UN officials have requested it, he said, and because patients and passengers have faced disruption and inconvenience due to its closure.
Those affected by the closure include students studying abroad and families who want to return to Sanaa, he said, adding that the additional journey they face is complicated by the security threats they might encounter if they returned through Aden or Seyoun airports.
Sanaa airport is safe, Ghanem added, as evidenced by the fact that it is receiving humanitarian relief flights on a daily basis.
Commercial sector suffers
Yemen's war has hurt the industrial and commercial sector, and the closure of Sanaa's airport to commercial flights has further complicated the situation, said Mohamed Salah, vice president of the Sanaa Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"The resumption of commercial and humanitarian flights is important to restoring some of the commercial activity and movement of financiers, businessmen and investors, whose trade has been suspended due to the closure of Sanaa airport," he told Al-Mashareq.
"The aid shipments by UN relief organisations is a positive outcome of the efforts made by the UN to deliver essential aid to the Yemeni people," economist Abdul Jalil Hassan told Al-Mashareq.
This aid is delivered to specific sectors, such as the health sector, and does not consist of food aid only, he said.
The reopening of Sanaa airport to general travelers is necessary, especially considering that 70% of Yemenis, chiefly residents of the northern and central provinces, use that airport to travel abroad, he said.