An Abu Dhabi helicopter company will be sent to the front lines of the humanitarian efforts for the Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, one of the world's most challenging annual logistical endeavours. Abu Dhabi Aviation, the Middle East's largest operator of helicopters, yesterday signed an Dh80 million (US$21.7m) deal with the Saudi Red Crescent Authority to provide six fully crewed air ambulances.
Abu Dhabi Aviation said the contract, for one year, would involve providing medical assistance during the pilgrimage to Mecca, which draws about 2 million foreign visitors a year. The four Bell 412 and two AgustaWestland 139 helicopters "will play a critical role in providing medical assistance to those visiting Mecca during the busy Ramadan and Haj period", the company said yesterday. The week-long event is the largest pilgrimage in the world and organising such a huge influx of visitors each year has pushed Saudi authorities to the limit. This year, Haj is expected to begin in mid-November.
But tragedy has struck in the past. In 2006, more than 340 pilgrims were crushed to death, and 251 died during the 2004 pilgrimage. The helicopters will this year provide the Saudi humanitarian organisation with added emergency response capabilities. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the vice chairman of Abu Dhabi Aviation, said he was happy his organisation had formed the partnership with the Saudi medical services group.
"We are pleased that we are able to provide our expertise in such a worthy field and we applaud the good work of Saudi Red Crescent Authority," Sheikh Hamdan said. Abu Dhabi Aviation operates a fleet of more than 50 helicopters and aeroplanes, and has signed deals to operate its helicopters on long-term contracts around the world, particularly with oil and gas companies for offshore oil rig work. The helicopters have been used in Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Spain, Pakistan and Eritrea, as well as Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Australia.