The crackdown on corruption in Saudi Arabia has severely damaged the kingdom's private jet sector, a sign of the campaign's impact on private enterprise and the wealthy elite.
Dozens of privately-owned, charter-worthy aircraft, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, are stranded in the kingdom's airports, including Riyadh and Jeddah, four well-informed people told Reuters with this case.
Some were delivered to the state in established settlements after the crackdown was launched in late 2017, when dozens of princes, businessmen, and government officials were arrested, they said. .
Others belong to Saudis who are either subject to travel bans, or who are reluctant to fly planes because they are wary of wealth demonstrations that could be considered a provocation by the government about the anti-corruption campaign, said two sources.
The government media office did not respond to requests for comment. The General Authority of Civil Aviation said that matters relating to the impact of the anti-corruption campaign on the private jet industry were not within its mandate, adding that its Private aviation relations covered operations, security and regulation.
The impact of the crackdown on the business world and private companies, which are already shaken by low oil prices and the weakening of consumer confidence, has broken investor confidence and contributed to create a sense of uncertainty about the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The slow-motion aircraft, which includes an estimated 70 sources, includes the Bombardier and Gulfstream jets, sources said. There are also larger aircraft, Airbus and Boeing, generally associated with commercial airlines, but which are often used in the Middle East as private jets.
A Boeing 737 MAX or an Airbus A320neo can cost up to $ 130 million, although the final cost depends on jet equipment in technologies and equipment, including private rooms, meeting rooms and even gym equipment.
The number of private jets registered in Saudi Arabia rose to 129 in December 2018, up from 136 the previous year, according to data from FlightAscend Consultancy.
Private jets offer users great flexibility because, unlike commercial airliners, they are not limited by arrival and departure time slots. They also allow users to travel more discreetly.
Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said last month that the state had collected more than 50 billion riyals (13.33 billion US dollars) from the repressed settlements.
Most of the detainees held at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton Hotel in November 2017 were released after being exonerated or having entered into financial agreements with the government, which would aim to seize more than $ 100 billion in cash or in assets.
It is unclear how the government would transfer the ownership of jet aircraft stranded in Saudi Arabia, as many of them are owned by foreign companies or are mortgaged, said two sources close to the case.
Three of the sources said that it was likely that the jets were still registered in the kingdom.
Two of the sources said the government could absorb the aircraft in existing fleets used by departments and state companies. A third source said the government was seeking to create its own private jet company entirely composed of seized aircraft.
The anti-corruption campaign launched by Prince Mohammed has been widely endorsed by ordinary Saudis, in part because the government has announced that it would use some of the funds to fund social benefits.
Critics said the purge was a power game of the prince while he was trying to consolidate power in his hands.
In Saudi Arabia, there have been few private jet flights during the past year, mainly because there are fewer aircraft available, including for charter flights, reported three of the sources close to the file.
VistaJet's commercial director, Ian Moore, compared this situation to the situation in China, where an anti-corruption crackdown has also weakened the private jet market.
"It's not really good politically to be seen flying in private at the moment, especially in possession of his own plane," he told Reuters.
A wealthy Saudi elite is taking commercial airlines to the UAE, Bahrain and other destinations, and then renting private jets to avoid government control, two sources said.
Aircraft manufacturers said that the appetite for business jet sales in Saudi Arabia had declined since the launch of the anti-corruption crackdown in November 2017.
"Political instability does not help consumer confidence in any way," said Stephen Friedrich, Commercial Director, Embraer Executive Jets, Commercial Manager at Jets Executive Executive.
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