POLITICAL FRICTION between the UK and Saudi Arabia over the continued presence of Saudi dissidents in London is jeopardising an estimated $250 million bid by British Aerospace subsidiary Avro Aerospace International to supply flag carrier Saudia with 12 Avro RJ70/85 regional passenger jets.

The contract has been under negotiation for at least two years, and Saudia's evaluation committee has shortlisted the Avro airliner, together with the Saab 2000 turboprop and the Canadair Regional Jet and Fokker 70 twinjets.

The new aircraft are required to replace Boeing 737-200s on Saudia's domestic network. Provisional funding, has been allocated in the airline's 1996 budget and an award is expected to be granted within weeks.

A BAe team was in Riyadh in the last week of November and was apparently told by the Saudis that the activities of the London-based dissident group could adversely affect the company's chances of securing the deal.

Saudi Arabia's anger is aimed at the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), an Islamic fundamentalist group headed by Dr Muhammad Masa'ri. The UK is powerless to accede to Riyadh demands to close down the CDLR, as the organisation has not broken any laws.

BAe will neither confirm nor deny that Saudia has raised the issue of the dissidents. "We are in continuing discussions," says the company.

The UK manufacturer adds that it is "acutely aware of the views of the Saudi Government", but says that the issue is "a government-to-government problem" over which it has no influence.

Source: Flight International