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10JEDDAH50 2010-02-27 13:05:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Jeddah
Cable title:  

GACA COMMENTS ON US-SAUDI OPEN SKIES AGREEMENT,

Tags:   EAIR ECON KTIA PREL SA 
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1. (SBU) Summary and comment. On February 3, Captain
Mohammed Ali Jamjoom, Vice President Safety and Economic
Regulation at the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation
(GACA), discussed issues needing to be resolved for the U.S.
and Saudi Arabia to sign an Open Skies agreement (reftels).
Jamjoom stated that if the U.S. can accept the "quite small"
Saudi changes and a transition period before full sixth
freedom rights, the parties should be able to initial an
agreement, which would immediately enter into provisional
effect pending full final approval by high-level Saudi
authorities. Noting that GACA and TSA cooperate strongly to
ensure passenger safety, Jamjoom expressed doubts about the
efficacy and enforceability of new TSA in-cabin security
measures and his hope that alternatives to full-body airport
scans can be developed. We were pleasantly surprised at
GACA,s high level of interest in expediting Open Skies even
after the Christmas bombing and subsequent TSA regulations.
We request department's assistance in wrapping up these
negotiations as quickly as possible since we believe
concluding Open Skies will be a very welcome sign of our
mutual interest in strengthening our relations. End summary
and comment.


SIXTH FREEDOM RIGHTS



2. (U) Econcouns informed Jamjoom that while the U.S. takes
the Saudi proposal very seriously and is quite interested in
concluding an Open Skies agreement, including sixth freedom
rights is extremely important. Jamjoom told Econcouns that
he believes that full open sixth freedom rights after a
transition period will not be a problem, and that if the U.S.
proposal on a sixth freedom transition period is similar to
the Saudi proposal in principle the two sides could reach an
agreement, especially if issues to be discussed were put in
annexes. The Saudi aviation industry is divided about
concluding an Open Skies agreement with the U.S., with some
thinking they should "be brave enough to accept additional
competition" and others "more conservative."


DATE OPEN SKIES AGREEMENT BECOMES EFFECTIVE



3. (U) Noting that the U.S. proposed agreement had a hard
date for entry into effect, Econcouns asked Jamjoom why the
Saudi counterproposal removed this fixed date from Annex II.
Jamjoom explained that it "takes time" for international
agreements to be fully approved through the Saudi system,
noting the agreement will need to be forwarded to the Council
of Ministers and Council of Experts for consideration. Once
the parties agree on a text, Jamjoom suggested, they can
initial the agreement and begin to implement it before final
official approval (e.g., the agreement would be provisionally
applicable before official entry into force). Discussing how
to initial the agreement, Jamjoom personally favored a public
ceremonial signing with press coverage to show the U.S.-Saudi
relationship is in good shape.


SAUDI OUTLOOK ON AVIATION



4. (U) Asked about the Saudi industry outlook on the future
of aviation, Jamjoom replied the industry didn't do too
badly. Although Hajj aviation decreased in 2009 because of
H1N1 fears, traffic overall has been quite stable and the
aviation industry has not significantly decreased. The
problem is not traffic by itself, it is that the Saudi fleet
is not configured to take advantage of existing passenger
loads. Current volume does not justify big aircraft, so
Saudi Arabian Airlines is now correcting its fleet. The
Airbus 320 "hit the right spot" and has built on it; the
Boeing 787 looks promising, but the 777 is too large for many
operators.


U.S. ATTRACTIVE DESTINATION; RESTRICTION IS VISAS



5. (U) Traffic on North American routes has been
significantly stimulated by the number of students on King

JEDDAH 00000050 002.2 OF 002


Abdullah scholarships. Saudi Arabian Airlines is considering
destinations beyond New York and WashDC, especially Orlando.
The U.S. is still an attractive destination for Saudis,
offering value for money and a wider variety of attractions
-- the restriction is visas, Jamjoom concluded, asking when
full visa service will resume in Jeddah.


NEW TSA REGULATIONS



6. (U) Sharing his view of the new TSA regulations, Jamjoom
said that while SAG adheres to its agreement with TSA to
implement screening for U.S.-bound flights, he personally
doubted the efficacy and applicability of some new in-cabin
measures, such as restrictions on using the toilets during
the last hour of the flight or banning blankets on laps.
Speaking as an ex-pilot, Jamjoom opined that protection in
the aircraft is too late; no one in the aircraft should be a
threat. Jamjoom also questioned whether some of the new
rules could be implemented because of cultural differences,
commenting that flight attendants on Saudi airlines are
foreign workers, and will not be listened to and obeyed by
Saudi passengers. In terms of security at the airport,
Jamjoom wondered if there are alternatives to mandatory
full-body x-rays of all passengers, such as optional hand
searches by same-gender security staff. (Note: GACA was
intensely criticized in the Saudi media this month for
allegedly receiving a memo from TSA outlining new security
procedures directed at Saudis on U.S.-bound flights -- a
charge the GACA spokesman has publicly denied.)


COMMENT



7. (SBU) We were pleasantly surprised at GACA,s high level
of interest in concluding expeditiously the Open Skies
agreement. GACA is aware that it would offer Saudi airlines
significant additional flexibility in serving and expanding
the U.S. market, driven in part by politically important King
Abdullah scholarships. If we can get the wording right, we
think Saudi Arabia will quickly accept the changes which will
produce a very welcome sign of our mutual interest in
deepening our relations. End comment.
QUINN