Yemen’s Sanaa Airport prepares to reopen amid strong interest in flights

Yemeni national airline's US agent says hundreds of citizens have asked about bookings

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The planned reopening of the international airport in Yemen's rebel-held capital has raised hopes not solely among Yemenis trapped by the country's civil war but also those living abroad who have been unable to visit their homeland during the conflict.

Sanaa International Airport will start receiving commercial flights for the first time since 2016 under the terms of a two-month truce brokered by the United Nations between the Iran-backed Houthi group and the internationally recognised government.

Although the truce became effective on April 2, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, no date has been set for reopening the airport as it is still undergoing repairs to infrastructure and equipment.

Air travel to and from Sanaa will open doors to life-saving medical treatment, long overdue family reunions and extend a lifeline to millions of Yemenis in the rebel-held north.

Commercial flights to Yemen currently operate only to the port city of Aden and to Seiyun in Hadramawt province, both in the government-held south.

“Sanaa airport is important for people living in the highly populated areas of the north like Marib, Al Mahwit and Hajjah,” said Baligh Al Mekhlafi, media adviser at Yemen’s embassy in Egypt.

“Right now, a road trip to Aden from Marib, Al Mahwit or Hajjah by car can take up to 24 hours when it used to require only four,” he told The National.

"The routes people sometimes take to get to Aden can be unsafe, closed or unfinished."

Besides the distance and road conditions, some routes carry the risk of mines.

“Elderly and sick people usually travel to Egypt for treatment or medical tourism, and so the [Sanaa] airport will now make that easier for them,” Mr Al Mekhlafi said.

Keeping ties

The reopening of Sanaa's airport will also be a boon to Yemenis living abroad, particularly those in the United States, says Waddah Mubarez, who runs the Mubarez travel agency in New York.

“The majority of Yemenis living in the US are from Ibb and Taez governorates in close proximity with Sanaa,” Mr Mubarez told The National.

As the US agent for Yemen’s national airline Yemenia, Mr Mubarez’s office keeps abreast of the news on travel to the country.

“We have been receiving up to 100 calls a day from people asking about the availability of tickets and the airport’s opening date, ever since the truce was announced,” he said.

Zaid Nagi, co-founder of the Yemeni American Merchants Association, said Yemenis maintain strong ties to their home no matter where they are in the world.

“This is especially true during Ramadan, when many look forward to spending time the family in Yemen, taking their children along to instil in them the Yemeni identity and its values,” Mr Nagi said.

Regardless of their reasons for travel, “hundreds of people’s problems will be resolved” once Sanaa airport is reopened, said Mr Mubarez, the Yemeni embassy official in Cairo.

Updated: April 08, 2022, 4:46 PM