On privatizing Saudi airports

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

By : Abdulrahman al-Rashed

I frequently use the Riyadh and Jeddah airports, and used to feel that they were a test of passengers’ patience due to bad services and hours of waiting. Although these airports have only witnessed simple improvements, travelers seem to be less discontent.

Until recently, these airports did not have restaurants or cafes, except for one coffee shop that had bad coffee. They did not have shops, lounges, decent toilets, ATMs or currency-exchange booths. The flight information display systems were dysfunctional, the microphones’ sound was unbearable, and employees at the passport check and security inspection made you feel afraid and guilty.

The Saudi civil aviation authority’s recent announcement of its decision to privatize airports is a step for which people will thank it a lot if it succeeds.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Meanwhile, a few people from society’s elite were relaxed because they had their own corner in these airports called the “executive office.” They would sit on comfortable couches and be served as much as coffee, tea and juice as they wanted.

Today, both these airports are better despite an increase in the number of passengers and flights. Most services are now available, and the situation is even better than that of the VIP lounge. We do not get as angry as before when our flights are delayed. We pay for these new services, and we do so happily.

Were these improvements difficult to achieve in the past? Not at all. This is the difference between ignorant managers and skilled ones who know their duties when it comes to serving customers. Carelessness and ignorance are the only justifications for why passengers were treated with such negligence in the past.


The Saudi civil aviation authority’s recent announcement of its decision to privatize airports is a step for which people will thank it a lot if it succeeds. It will also yield financial profits that the kingdom deserves. Saudi Arabia is one of the most active countries in the region with regard to traveling. This is due to the presence of millions of foreign workers, millions of visiting pilgrims, and millions of Saudi citizens who love to travel during their vacations.

It is with these people’s money, not the government’s, that the state can establish an excellent travel industry when the civil aviation authority decides to end its monopoly on the management of airports. If it succeeds, it will serve as a model for other sectors. The government has become aware that controlling the services sector is politically wrong and a failed managerial business.

Passport check and security inspection services have changed a lot in Saudi airports. Their developed electronic services are better than those of other government sectors – some are even better than Dubai’s, which stands as an example of quality of service.

Developing the management’s approach, being creative when devising solutions, having results measured by independent parties, and adopting the concept of accountability will achieve the required transformation by getting rid of bureaucratic and centralized approaches, and finally progressing toward a modern society.

*A few days ago we lost Rashed al-Fahed al-Rashed, a prominent journalist and an old friend. Rashed had lived his life in the media field but kept away from the spotlight. His political views were far ahead of his time. He was loved, noble and virtuous. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. May he rest in peace.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.


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