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Dallas Morning News 4/27/02


Air controllers: Saudi wanted only men

Envoy, FAA deny prince barred females from handling Texas flights


WASHINGTON Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's representatives asked that women be barred from air traffic control duties when he traveled Thursday to Central Texas for a summit with President Bush, several Texas aviation officials say.

The request, honored on portions of the prince's flights between Houston and Waco, has angered some Texas air traffic personnel.

"I don't think his request should have even been passed on," said Mark Pallone, a regional vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "Our controllers are all qualified. We don't qualify people based on sex or religion."

Representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration and the State Department denied that the Saudis asked for special treatment.

"We have received no request from either the Saudis or the U.S. State Department that we provide any special services" to the prince, said FAA spokesman Roland Herwig. White House officials said they had no knowledge of any such request.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, told KHOU-TV in Houston: "I don't know where this news came from. I can say, without going back to our people, that is absolute nonsense that they would do something like that."

An FAA employee in Texas confirmed the incident, calling it "an outrage." Prince Abdullah is "in our country and should adhere to our rules," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The incident spotlights cultural differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia, where women are segregated in the workplace, banned from driving and forced to cover up from head to toe in public.

Texas aviation officials said the controversy began Thursday morning when members of the prince's entourage approached the manager of the Texas State Technical College airport in Waco, the airfield used by Mr. Bush and dignitaries visiting his ranch in nearby Crawford.

"Apparently, what happened is that an advance group of Saudi Arabians went in and talked to the airport manager and told him they did not want any females on the ramp and also said there should not be any females talking to the airplane," said Ruben Gonzalez, regional manager for RVA Inc., which operates the airport's control tower under a contract with the FAA.

The request was honored, Mr. Gonzalez said, and safety was in no way compromised. He said a male controller handled the prince's morning flight from Houston to Waco, with the female tower manager on the premises and ready to work, if necessary. Two male controllers guided the prince's afternoon flight back to Houston, he said.

"I had never had a request like this and thought it was odd," Mr. Gonzalez said. "But we did not do anything out of the ordinary. We just did our jobs."

Mr. Pallone, the union official, said the Saudis' male-only appeal made its way from the Waco airport to three FAA stations along the prince's route: the Waco approach control center and the Fort Worth and Houston en route centers.

During the morning flight to Waco, authorities in the Houston en route center "refused to comply" with the prince's request, Mr. Pallone said. The issue was moot in the Fort Worth en route center because an all-male crew already had been scheduled, he said. In the Waco center, he said, a male controller took charge of the prince's plane from a female controller.

During the return flight to Houston, only men were working in the Waco center, Mr. Pallone said. At least one woman was on duty in the Fort Worth center, he said, and Houston made no special arrangements.

Word of the Saudis' request spread quickly through FAA facilities in Texas.

"I've been a controller 24 years, and I've never heard of anything like this," said Dennis West, who works in the tower at Love Field in Dallas. "I was outraged, as were all the people I worked with, especially the females."

The FAA employee who requested anonymity was equally critical. "My understanding is that he [the prince] did not want any females to work him," the official said. "For us to accommodate that request is absolutely crazy."

The U.S. government has paid heed in the past to Saudi sensitivities, only recently jettisoning an Air Force policy requiring female American military personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia to dress in traditional Muslim robes when they go off-base.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, noted that half the people aboard the crown prince's plane were female "hostesses."

"The role of women in Saudi Arabia is undergoing tremendous transformation," he said. "They make half the population. They are needed to bring the population to its full capacity."

The summit between Mr. Bush and the crown prince, who is Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, occurred against a backdrop of rising tensions between the two nations over U.S. policy in the Middle East and the commitment of Arab nations to rein in Islamic fundamentalists and fight terrorism.

-- (, April 27, 2002


"I've been a controller 24 years, and I've never heard of anything like this," said Dennis West, who works in the tower at Love Field in Dallas. "I was outraged, as were all the people I worked with, especially the females."

This really is nothing new, it has been going on for decades.

Back in the late 70's I was working at Boeing when we were training the crew for the Iranian Iattola's (sp) personal aircraft. It was a 737, MY simulator. I was perfectly aware of the attitude about the subjugation of women. One day the bell went off, calling a tech to the sim to fix a problem. With a private shit eating grin I answered. The airspeed indicator had a loose floating ground and would max out once in a while. So in I walk, tell the pilot to steer down the runway and I pushed the throttles to max, once the electronics got into sync I told him to hit his parking brakes as I pulled the throttles back. That was the "quick fix" for the problem. If looks could kill I would have been dead the second I walked in. I said "there, that fixes it" and walked out.

The next day word came down from the head of Boeing, to the head of flight crew training, to the head of the maintenance department to my supervisor to me, telling me not to show myself ANYWHERE in the area as long as they were there training. I was perfectly aware of what I did and did it on purpose. In tech school a friend of mine had dated an Iranian and been treated like crap, less than a second class citizen, and I didn't like their collective attitude. I did as told and never offended them again. The problem was not only that I was female, but I told one of them what to do and I was "smarter" than he was. It wasn't much later when we broke off friendly relationship with the Iranians.

If an african group had come in for training and the women had gone topless, Americans would have been offended, that's part of culture differences and if you want to interact with other cultures in the world, sometimes it is necessary to accept their social morays. But if the administration bothered to learn the social taboos, they would have quietly prevented what the Saudi's considered offensive situations.

The point is, this isn't anything new, I'm just surprized it was considered newsworthy.

-- Cherri (whatever@who.cares), April 27, 2002.

Shut up, woman! Button your burqa.

-- (Abdullah the Mullah @ The Good News.Mosque), April 28, 2002.

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