(CNSNews.com) – The United States and Saudi Arabia have signed an Open Skies agreement that will "permit unrestricted air service by the airlines of both countries between and beyond the other’s territory."
The agreement means Saudi airlines may fly from any point in the kingdom to any point in the United States, and that U.S. airlines may fly from any point here to any airport in Saudi Arabia.
The deal was signed May 28 in Jeddah by U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James B. Smith and Dr. Faisal bin Hamad Al-Sugair, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Director of the General Authority of Civil Aviation.
In addition to permitting each nations' airlines to provide unrestricted air service to any point in the other country, the agreement also eliminates restrictions on how often the carriers can fly, the kind of aircraft they can use and the prices they charge.
“Saudi Arabia is a valued and close partner of the United States,” Kerry Humphrey of the State Department’s Bureau of Economic & Business Affairs told CNSNews.com. “This agreement not only reflects the excellent state of our bilateral relations, but also promises to facilitate further development of those relations with regard to tourism and trade.”
Fifteen of the 19 men who hijacked and crashed American planes on Sept. 11, 2001 were from Saudi Arabia.
But in announcing the Open Skies Agreement, the State Department said the deal will benefit businesses and travelers “while preserving our commitments to aviation safety and security.”
According to the State Department’s most recent report on global terrorism, “During 2012, the Government of Saudi Arabia continued its long-term counterterrorism strategy to track and halt the activities of terrorists and terrorist financiers, dismantle the physical presence of al-Qa’ida, and impede the ability of militants to operate from or within the Kingdom.”
The report said Saudi authorities in August 2012 “announced they had discovered and partially rounded up two separate terrorist cells (one in Riyadh and the other in Jeddah) affiliated with al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).”
And throughout 2012, the report noted, the Yemen-based AQAP “noticeably stepped up its efforts to inspire sympathizers throughout Saudi Arabia in an effort to compensate for difficulties in carrying out cross-border attacks.”
The report also noted that Saudi Arabia maintains a “robust counterterrorism relationship” with the United States.
The State Department says full implementation of the Open Skies agreement with Saudi Arabia will take place over three years and will be monitored to ensure that each country has completed the required domestic legal measures.
There are currently seven Saudi-based airline companies—al-Anwa Aviation, ASACO, Dallah Avco, Mid East Jet, Nas Air, SNAS Aviation, and Saudia. The latter company, formerly known as Saudi Arabian Airlines, is the nation’s flagship airline, officially owned by the Saudi kingdom.
Per the agreement, the seven airlines will be permitted “unrestricted” access to US skies and airports for the purpose of international travel and shipments. They will not, however, be permitted to service domestic flight routes within the United States.
The United States has over one hundred identical agreements with foreign countries. Saudi Arabia is the last country on the Arabian Peninsula—after Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen, the U.A.E, and Qatar—to sign an Open Skies agreement.