The General Authority of Civil Aviation or GACA is the regulatory, legislative and governing entity of the aviation industry in the KSA. Its mission is to guarantee the aviation industry activities according to the GACA guidelines by implementing an effective safety oversight system. This Authority appeared from the Presidency of Civil Aviation (PCA) that was created when the institution governing aviation was split into a civil department and the Royal Saudi Air Force. Furthermore, the PCA was in charge of Saudi Arabia Airlines and the Meteorology Department. In 1977, the name of the PCA was changed to General Authority of Civil Aviation, and in 2011 the GAVA was detached from the Ministry of Defense. Until the date, the GACA operates four international and 23 domestic airports in KSA, and its legal frame is the Royal Decree Number M/44(18/07/1426 H).

Royal Decree Number M/44 dated on 18/07/1426 H

The Civil Aviation Act was approved by the Council of Ministers Resolution Number 185 (17/07/1426) as authorized by Royal Decree Number M/44 (18/07/1426 H) (the Law). These provisions apply in Civil Aviation activities and operations in KSA, Civil aerodromes, civil aircraft registered in KSA, State aircraft, and all the aircrafts registered in a foreign country and operated by a Saudi national through a lease or exchange. According to the provisions of article 7 of the Law, official customs, security, immigration, health and agriculture quarantine, and other competent authorities must have the right to inspect aircraft or any person or cargo on board.

Concerning the General Provisions on aviation, article 9 lays down that the Authority may issue aircraft licenses and permits. These licenses must be deemed personal property and may not be assigned to others. On the other hand, aircraft operating in KSA must meet the following requirements (article 10):

  • To be registered in the relevant Country or under international or joint registration rules 
  • To have a valid airworthiness certificate issued or validated by the registration country or the common mark registering Authority 
  • To visibly display nationality and registration markings pursuant to rules established by the Civil Aviation Authority 
  • To be fitted with set devices and equipment
  • Flight crew members must hold valid permits issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of the registering Country or the common mark registering Authority 
  • To maintain valid insurance for aircraft crew, passengers, luggage, cargo on board for those belonging to others on the ground, and to cover damages resulting from flight risks affecting users thereof.

Article 19 of the law states the prohibition of alcohol and narcotics, an owner or operator of an aircraft registered in the Kingdom may not offer or sell any alcoholic drinks, narcotics, or prohibited substances on board the aircraft. Additionally, anyone entering the Kingdom may not possess alcoholic drinks, narcotics, or prohibited substances.

Related licensing and operating Aviation Companies, article 24 lay down that non-national companies or establishments may be established for engaging in Commercial air carriage or air operations, whether in the KSA or abroad, without an air operator license and the approval of the Authority pursuant to conditions stipulated in the regulations.

Some of the GACA regulations are:

(A) GACA Regulation, Section 1: Personnel Licensing

Concerning the personnel licensing, it was established the GAFA Regulation, section 1: personal licensing. The General Authority of Civil Aviation is an Authority for licensing of civil aviation personnel in the KSA in accordance with the obligations imposed by the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) and Regional Air Navigation Agreements.

Chapter 2 lays down the requirements to obtain an air traffic controller license. An individual must not provide an air traffic control service unless he holds an ATC license delivered or approved by GACA, with a valid rating, including any associated rating and/or unit license authorization relating to the air traffic control service to be provided, a current Class 3 medical assessment certificate and a valid English proficiency certificate.

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(B) GACA Regulation, Section 2: Rules of the Air

Chapter 3 of GACA Regulations concerning rules of the air lays down the general rules such as:

  • An aircraft must not function in a negligent or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of others.
  • Nothing must be dropped or sprayed from an aircraft in flight except under conditions prescribed by GACA and as indicated by relevant information, advice and/or clearance from the appropriate air traffic services unit.
  • No aircraft or other item must be towed by an aircraft, except in accordance with requirements prescribed by GACA and as indicated by relevant information, advice and/or clearance from the appropriate air traffic services unit.
  • Aircraft must not be soared in formation, excluding by predetermination among the pilots-in-command of the aircraft taking part in the trip and, for formation flight in controlled airspace, in accordance with the conditions prescribed by GACA. These conditions shall include the following:
  • The formation functions as a single aircraft with regard to navigation and position reporting.
  • The separation between aircraft in the flight must be the charge of the flight leader and the pilots-in-command of the other airplane in the flight.
  • A remotely piloted aircraft shall be operated in such a manner as to minimize hazards to persons, property, and other aircraft.
  • Aircraft must not be flown in a prohibited area or in a delimited area, the particulars of which have been suitably published, except in accordance with the conditions of the restrictions or by permission of GACA.

Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention)

As per Article 4 of the Royal Decree Number M/44(18/07/1426 H) lays down the implementation of international treaties and agreements; one of them is the Chicago Convention. The Convention of Chicago was enacted on December 7th of 1944 by 52 countries, and the KSA adhered to the Convention on February 19th of 1962. Its first article lays down that the contracting States recognize that every Country has complete and restricted sovereignty over the airspace above its territory. 

Article 3 bis state that the States that sign the Convention must not use arms against civil aircraft in flight, and in the event of interception, the lives of individuals on board and the safety of aircraft must not be risked. Furthermore, the States that are part of this Convention are allowed to involve the landing at some selected airport of a civil aircraft flying above its territory without Authority or if there are reasonable grounds to accomplish that it is being used for any purpose inconsistent with the objectives of the Convention.

Concerning the flight over the territory of contracting States, Article 5 lay down that each State decides that all airplane of the other contracting States, being aircraft not engaged in scheduled international air facilities, must have the right to make flights into or in transit non-stop across its territory and to make stops for non-traffic purposes without the requirement of procurement prior permission.

Furthermore, each State has the right to refuse permission to the airplane of other contracting states to take on in its territory passengers, cargo, and mail carried for remuneration or hired and destined for another point in its territory (Article 7). On the other hand, article 8 states that no airplane capable of being flown without a pilot must be flown without a pilot over the territory of a State without approval by that State. Certainly, according to the Convention, some areas of each State can be restricted or prohibited for military reasons (Article 9)

Article 12 of the Convention states that the contracting State must adopt measures to ensure that every aircraft member flying in its territory must comply with the laws and regulations relating to the flight of aircraft there in force. Otherwise, all the States of this Convention must take action to avoid the spread of diseases such as cholera, typhus, smallpox, plague, yellow fever, and other infectious diseases.

In conclusion, the aviation sector makes a big contribution to Saudi Arabia’s economy. It stipulates, according to the General Authority of Civil Aviation, that in three (3) years, the Authority will create 10.000 jobs for Saudis, such as air traffic controllers, pilots, cabin crew, and handling of cargo. This strategy is part of the Saudi Vision 2030. Furthermore,  the development of the aviation sector includes the creation of new airports in Riyadh North, Farasan Island, Al-Qunfudah, and Riyadh South.