Sana'a, 31 December 2021 – The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, David Gressly, made the following statement today:
Sana'a international airport is critical for aid operations in the north of Yemen.
Although closed to regular civilian flights since 2016, the United Nations and other humanitarian actors rely on the airport to fly in aid workers and supplies that help deliver life-saving assistance to millions of people every month.
Closure of the airport to humanitarian flights severely undermines aid operations, and I remain deeply concerned about any further disruptions.
Following the airport closure by the authorities in Sana'a on 19 December and airstrikes the following night, a UN team visited the airport on 21 December and determined that it remains operational for emergency use.
Humanitarian flights are emergency in nature. I call on the authorities in Sana'a to refrain from suspending humanitarian flights in the future, even for technical reasons, without advance consultations and mutual agreement with the United Nations. The temporary reopening of the airport on 27 December was a positive development.
Humanitarian flights should also operate under the maximum possible safety and security conditions. The communications equipment at Sana'a airport has had technical issues. Over the past 18 months, UN humanitarian flight crews have reported at least 10 instances in which they were unable to contact the air control tower at Sana'a airport or had unclear communications – a potentially dangerous situation. The Civil Aviation and Meteorology Authority (CAMA) in Sana'a deems the equipment obsolete.
CAMA purchased new equipment for the control tower in 2019, which the United Nations agreed to fly into Sana'a airport. But the Saudi-led Coalition's Evacuation and Humanitarian Operations Committee (EHOC) has not authorized the transfer, despite several requests from the United Nations, citing the need for Government of Yemen approval.
To ensure maximum safety and reliability for humanitarian flights, I am urgently calling on the Government of Yemen to authorize the import of the equipment, the contents of which were verified by EHOC in December 2021. The equipment is needed to ensure the safe use of Sana'a airport for humanitarian flights and, by extension, the continuation of the aid operation in Yemen
Timeline for editors
November 2019 – The Chairman of CAMA requests the United Nations to transport equipment for air traffic control from Djibouti to Sana'a.
23 November 2019 – The United Nations first requests authorization from EHOC to transport the equipment.
19 December 2021 – The Director of CAMA suspends flights into and out of Sana'a international airport invoking safety reasons due to reported failures in the communications equipment essential to the functioning of the air traffic control systems.
20 December 2021 – The United Nations shares reports of communications failures in 2020 and 2021 with EHOC.
22 December 2021 – In response to a renewed request by the United Nations for permission to transport the equipment from Djibouti to Sana'a, EHOC states that it could not provide the authorization because the Government of Yemen, based in Aden, had not authorized the import of this equipment.
27 December 2021 – CAMA temporarily reinstates humanitarian flights, following repairs on the existing communications equipment. But CAMA indicates that the continued functioning of these devices in the long term is not guaranteed due to their age.