In October of 2022, AgAir Update, along with Eagle Vistas, traveled to Saudi Arabia after being invited by Sharq Aerospace Industries, the region’s leading provider of aerial application services. The visit was a whirlwind tour of the expansive and developing aerial spraying operations that are the vision of Mansour N. AlSharif, an engineer and accomplished businessman. Mansour holds Master’s Degrees in Engineering, Business Administration and Finance, as well as Graduate Certificates in Aviation Law, Airline Safety Management and Aeronautics. Mansour has an extensive history in aviation management and was the driving force that allowed Sharq Aerospace to establish with the Saudi Arabian Government a strengthened and modernized aerial spraying in the country to achieve long-term sustained efficiency.
Saudi Arabia is well known for having deserts, so the question that came to mind was whether the country needs aerial application operations. A lesser-known fact is that the country has mountain ranges that experience snowfall, wetlands, and a lot of sizeable circular crops. As seen at the Saudi Agriculture Event conducted in Riyadh, the country is driven to improve food security. The world is currently witnessing rapid growth and modernization in the Kingdom. They have large-scale developments under their Vision 2030 programs. Giga Projects are now in place, and the environmental impacts of these advancements are at the forefront. All endeavors are made by the government to safeguard the country’s environment and achieve self-sufficiency.
Sharq Aerospace is a Saudi-registered company with its headquarters and Flight Operations Control center located in the city of Jeddah, which is adjacent to the Red Sea. Sharq Aerospace is part of the Sharq Group, a private holding company established in 2006. Sharq Aero is the group’s arm for operating and investing in the aviation sector and gained its GACAR Part 133 Aerial Works Operation Certificate in February 2022. The Part 133 Aerial Works Certificate is Saudi Arabia’s version of the FAA Part 137 Operating Certificate. With this license to operate, Sharq Aerospace became a key player in the Kingdom for aerial applications.
Sharq Aerospace currently operates a total of six Air Tractors and one rotorcraft. They currently run the largest modern Air Tractor fleet in the Middle East. Their fleet consists of three AT-504s, two AT-502XPs, one AT-502B and a Bell 505. The Air Tractors are all similarly configured with SATLOC guidance systems and Micronair nozzles for low-volume applications. CP nozzles are used for higher-volume oil disbursement applications.
Sharq Aerospace is one of the only private companies in Saudi Arabia that operates out of dedicated airfields designated to Sharq by MEWA. The company uses two dedicated airports adjacent to the Red Sea, and both are equipped with aircraft hangars, storage, administration buildings and chemical mixing facilities. Al Abdiyah Airfield is in the western part of the country, boasting a 3,000-foot runway and a 15,000 square feet apron. Al Edabi Airfield, located in Sabyah, is east of Jizan and has a 3,000-foot runway with loading facilities. Sharq Aerospace has set up ground support equipment at both airfields to facilitate operations. This includes fuel and water trucks. Logistics are in place to provide its fleet with fuel, water, spare parts and tools 24/7 anywhere in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Sharq Aerospace’s current scope of aerial operations includes an array of services, primarily aerial applications for locusts and mosquitos, with some crop protection. Sharq Aerospace also provides oil spillage treatment response and research/surveillance with the Bell 505. Their helicopter is equipped with a SATLOC GPS for future aerial application missions.
Other aerial applications such as fire fighting, cloud seeding, Emergency Medical Services, imaging, mapping and photography are also covered by Sharq Aerospace’s license, and the company plans to be offering those services in the near future.
In 2021, following successful public bidding, Sharq Aerospace entered a five-year contract with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture (MEWA) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and became its exclusive aerial application operator. For this contract, Sharq Aerospace runs daily flight missions to control mosquitoes in the Holy Makkah area, Gizan and other locations as required by MEWA. Its fleet is on standby to conduct aerial spraying whenever the locust season emerges.
Sharq Aerospace ensures it conducts a high-performance and robust operation through regimented training and adopting best practices published by the National Agricultural Aviation Association. A dramatic increase in the performance and output is seen compared to the previous operation. Since its inception, Sharq Aerospace has increased flying hours five-fold and expanded the range of service areas to over 900 kilometers.
In collaboration with LAMOR, the National Center for Environmental Compliance (NCEC), Saudi Investment Recycling Company (SIRC), and SAIL (marine emergency response services), Sharq Aerospace also conducts aerial oil spillage treatment operations. The combination of a modern fleet and operating out of their private airfields makes Sharq Aerospace’s response time excellent and enables the company to exceed the world benchmark for oil spillage response time. The strategic location of their airports allows for an immediate and effective response to oil spillage control within the Red Sea.
Part of Sharq Aerospace’s core values is supporting Saudi Arabia’s 2030 vision concerning its role in aviation. Part of this vision is the education of the existing pilot pool in the country on aerial application, focusing on the specialized flying skills required for aerial oil spillage treatment, aerial pest control, crop protection and aerial firefighting. Sharq Aerospace is on the ground floor of establishing the Saudi agricultural aviation industry that observes world-class standards of practice.
Sharq Aerospace built a diverse team of experienced AG pilots and instructors from around the world. They have picked highly qualified and knowledgeable Pilots from Costa Rica, Cyprus, and the USA. This team of pilots is fully capable of executing the existing aerial spraying missions and training young Saudi pilots. In collaboration with Eagle Vistas, Sharq sends Saudi pilots to the USA on company grant scholarships for training using Eagle Vista’s Ag Pilot Minimum Standards Program. Upon program completion in the USA, each pilot will undergo a mentorship training program in Saudi Arabia. The two-seater AT-504 is used for training by experienced US flight instructors to prepare and qualify Saudi pilots to fly solo missions. Sharq Aerospace also invested in its own customized Air Tractor 500 series Redbird Flight Simulator. It is currently the only full-motion simulator worldwide made and designed especially for the Air Tractor 500 Series. It is also noteworthy that Sharq Aerospace is committed to continuously building its team with experts in the field of aerial application.
AgAir Update’s guide for the trip was Sharq Aerospace’s Projects director Capt. Abdullah Alsharif. Abdullah is an 18,000-hour pilot and flight instructor with experience in a wide range of airframes, from A320s to Air Tractors and various light and heavy helicopters. Abdullah shares in the Sharq Aerospace vision to bring aerial applications mainstream in Saudi Arabia. He proved to be a wealth of knowledge and an excellent host to AgAir Update.
The excitement and motivation present in Saudi Arabia and Sharq Aerospace about the fledgling aerial application industry in the country are remarkable. The company believes in the industry and can clearly see the benefits of establishing mainstay ag aviation in the regions. During the trip, Sharq Aerospace hosted AgAir Update and Eagle Vistas, providing unbelievable hospitality and a phenomenal educational experience that will surely be discussed for years to come.