Skip to main content /US /US

Officials: Saudi asked no women direct flight

Saudi foreign minister denies report

Abdullah arrives in Waco, Texas, last week.
Abdullah arrives in Waco, Texas, last week.  

From Kathleen Koch
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Representatives of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah requested that no women air traffic controllers direct his flight on his way to visit President Bush at his Texas ranch earlier this week, according to regional and national aviation officials.

A Saudi official and a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration denied such a formal request was made, but another FAA official and an air traffic controllers' union leader said the request was conveyed to one airport and three FAA facilities.

News of the reputed request provoked the ire of female air traffic controllers, congressmen and women's-rights groups.

"Obviously our controllers are very upset -- not just the females," said Mark Pallone, regional vice president for the National Air Traffic Controllers' Association. "The males are upset, too, as are we. The union's upset too.

"It's ridiculous the request made it that far. It should have been stopped in the beginning and never made to the facilities."

Texas State Technical College airport complied with the request, guiding Abdullah's aircraft Thursday to a private airport in Waco, Texas, near Bush's ranch in Crawford, Pallone said.

The airport relayed the request to the FAA's Waco division, which passed the message to the FAA's Houston and Fort Worth facilities, which were scheduled to handle the Saudi leader's plane, Pallone said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal denied any request was made.

"I can say without going back to our people that is absolute nonsense they would do something like that," he said.

NOW: 'It is abusive'

"We have very, very fine air traffic controllers, men and women," said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri. "They do their job, they do a fine job, and there's no sense in our trying to bend to their culture."

"Excluding a woman from her place of work is not a little request," said Terry O'Neill, membership vice president for the National Organization for Women.

"It is abusive. It is telling a woman she does not belong there."

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told CNN the agency did not receive a "formal request" from Saudi officials. "There was no direction from the FAA to handle the planes any differently," she said.

Another FAA official, who asked not to be named, said the Saudis made the request directly to local airport officials in Waco. Aviation officials there complied with the request, he said, assigning male air traffic controllers to direct the flight.

Pallone said a female supervisor at the FAA's Waco approach control center stepped back and told a male controller to handle the prince's inbound flight.

As for Abdullah's departure from Texas, Pallone said no FAA facilities changed staffing and that in fact a female air traffic controller in Fort Worth directed the prince's flight.




Back to the top