Sanaa International Airport:Where time stood still [Archives:2004/765/Viewpoint]

August 19 2004

Sanaa International Airport was built in the 1970s with the aim of serving the limited number of travelers per year. Its capacity, services, and design were specified to meet the needs of a very small country with a few planes and handful of flights per week. It was more or less suitable for a country whose population rarely saw a plane flying, and less than 0.01% could even imagine flying on one.
Around three decades later, the airport remains the same. It has remained without expansion or improvement for more than 30 years. In fact, it has deteriorated in all aspects as it was poorly maintained and terribly managed.
Today, the airport is, with no exaggeration, a disgrace to our country. We claim to have developed in all aspects and fields, yet we have failed until today, to even add one extra room to this important symbol of our country's progress and identity.
Airports are among the first places that formulate the impressions of international visitors. In our case, Sanaa International Airport has become a negative symbol of our country. From the first moment, you are lined up for long hours waiting for your passport to be stamped in the immigration hall, to the harassment you receive by children insisting to carry your bags for you (for an often exaggerated cost), the whole experience of going through the airport is – for many people I know – simply a nightmare.
It is very difficult for foreigners to understand why the government has been neglecting the airport for so many years. They find it quite astonishing to see the carelessness in maintaining toilets, or the rude behavior of the military soldiers who continue to carry their pistols and firearms inside the small rooms.
I have even heard stories of those soldiers outnumbering the travelers on some occasions.
Nevertheless, I fell hopeful when I see the transit hall, with its elegant design, clean toilets, Internet services, and entertainment facilities. Realizing that these transit rooms have been totally managed by Yemen Airways, I expressed gratitude and respect to the national carrier, but at the same time, requested that the airline exerts greater pressure on the government to have this airport renovated or even rebuilt.
“As you know, Yemenia doesn't have any authority on the government concerning the airport. They said it is their business and we cannot interfere. It is a pity to see that this building has never been improved since the 1970s. I just hope that they would allow Yemenia to take over its management and then hold us accountable afterwards” said Captain Abdulkhaliq Al-Qadhi, Chairman of Yemenia, when asked why the airline doesn't exert greater pressure on the government to modernize the airport.
It is fine for us to preserve historical areas such as Old Sanaa, Shiban and elsewhere, but to preserve an out-dated airport is completely unacceptable.
How can we expect to have more tourists if it takes an hour for travelers to clear immigration, and if you see travelers almost jumping on one another when taking in their bags or moving in the halls?
It is amazing how Sana'a International Airport remains with so little attention, as if it doesn't exist. I still can't figure out why it has been abandoned for so long.
Looking at one of the walls of the waiting hall I found a hint. It was a wall clock on one of the arrival hall walls. It was stuck, with no motion. Only God knows for how many years it has stayed there with dead batteries. But it is not surprising, after all, our airport is the place where time stood still!