Saudi Arabia formally launches a new mega airline (Riyadh Air)

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Today: Saudi Arabia formally launches a new mega airline

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is investing in tourism and aviation on a scale never seen before. Part of that involves the creation of a new national airline, which will be called Riyadh Air following an official announcement by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The new  carrier will leverage Saudi Arabia’s strategic geographic location between the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe, enabling Saudi Arabia’s capital city Riyadh to become a gateway to the world and a global destination for transportation, trade, and tourism. Tony Douglas, former chief executive of Etihad Airways, has been appointed as Chief Executive Officer of Riyads Air, bringing more than 40 years of experience in the aviation, transportation and logistics industries.

Riyadh Air

In its ambitious plans, the new carrier Riyadh Air plans to serve more than 100 destinations around the world by 2030. Operating from Riyadh as its hub, the airline is aiming to become the largest airline in the Middle East, going head-to-head and beating regional giants such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Etihad Airways. The airline is expected to add USD20 billion to non-oil GDP growth, and create more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs. Riyadh Air is wholly owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has more than $600 billion USD in assets and is the main driver of the kingdom’s efforts to diversify its economy and wean itself off oil.

As a PIF subsidiary, the new national airline is set to benefit from PIF’s investment expertise and financial capabilities while expanding on the company’s operations to become a leading world-class carrier. The new national airline represents PIF’s latest investment in the sector, along with the recently announced King Salman International Airport masterplan. The latter is expected to be one of the world’s largest airports covering an area of approximately 57 sq km (22 sq mi), allowing for six parallel runways and including Riyads’s current existing airport named after King Khalid. The airport aims to accommodate up to 120 million travelers by 2030 and 185 million travelers, with the capacity to process 3.5 million tons of cargo, by 2050.

Riyadh Air already announced that it has chosen the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to power its global launch and support its goal of operating one of the most efficient and sustainable fleets in the world. The carrier will purchase 39 highly efficient 787-9s, with options for an additional 33 787-9s (and is also in advanced negotiations  with Airbus to purchase dozens of A350 aircraft). The order with Boeing was made in parallel to an order by the country’s current flag carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia), which will continue to work alongside Riyadh Air (offering different services and operating from Jeddah as its hub). In total, Saudi Arabian carriers announced their intent to purchase up to 121 Boeing 787 Dreamliners in what will be the fifth largest commercial order by value in Boeing’s history.

Riyadh Air will support Saudi Arabia’s goal of serving 330 million passengers and attracting 100 million visitors annually by 2030. Question is whether that will be possible since the Kingdom struggles with a bad reputation when it comes to human rights issues (e.g. oppression of women and the LGQTB+ community). Although Saudi Arabia announced important and necessary reforms in 2020, there’s still a long way to go and many travelers – especially Westerners – aren’t comfortable (yet) with the idea of holidaying in Saudi Arabia, transiting via the country or supporting a Saudi Arabian company. Some countries like the United Arab Emirates and the Maldives – which also follow a strict interpretation of Sharia law – have shown that you can become a prime tourist destinations (by applying a different set of rules for locals vs tourists in their resorts), but Saudi Arabia has a bigger reputation problem, at least as of now. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that the country looks beautiful as is evident from the YouTube video below (uploaded by one of my favorite content creators), so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the future.

Are you looking forward to flying with Ryadh Air? And would you feel comfortable traveling to or transiting via Saudi Arabia? Leave a comment.

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  1. I have always wanted to see the KSA as my wife worked there, she told me amazing stories, but I was always under the impression that I could not get visa because I was not Muslim. Nothing wrong with being dry airline, a beer is nice with your meal but not a deal breaker. Someone that needs to drink to fly should see their GP/family doctor

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