Saudia (SV, Jeddah) is to request the Saudi government grant reciprocal seventh-freedom rights to US all-cargo carriers in exchange for similar rights applied for by the Saudi flag carrier from the US Department of Transportation for cargo flights between Belgium and the United States.

In the meantime, Saudia – in a regulatory filing on January 11 – has requested the DOT to defer its decision on the airline's request until it has had the time to consult with the Saudi government. The carrier has undertaken to update the DOT on its talks with the Saudi government within 90 days of the filing.

This follows Saudia’s December 20, 2021, application for limited exemption to provide seventh-freedom cargo flights between Liège, Belgium, and New York JFK and Chicago O'Hare in the USA.

In response, four US carriers - FedEx Express, UPS Airlines, ATI - Air Transport International, and ABX Air – have requested the DOT to defer its decision on Saudia’s application until the Saudi government grants reciprocal seventh-freedom rights to US all-cargo carriers, or, alternatively, to deny its application if this is not granted.

They also stated that granting an exemption to Saudia to conduct the requested seventh freedom rights between Belgium and the US would be contrary to “public interest”.

In its response to the US carriers, Saudia argued that its requested service would be in the public interest as it would help to alleviate supply chain delays caused by the increased volume of air cargo between Europe and the US due to COVID-19. “Indeed, granting this application will greatly benefit US consumers and businesses by expanding the scope of all-cargo air transportation services between the US and Europe and beyond.” It noted that “public interest” was not defined in the statute or in DOT’s regulations applicable to its exemption application, and that the DOT had broad discretion to determine what constituted “public interest”.

While ATI and ABX Air's comments were submitted after the regulatory deadline, Saudia made no objection to the DOT including their responses in the regulatory docket.