Image: BriYYZ via Wikimedia Commons
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has officially launched a new national airline called Riyadh Air, intending to create a more financially sustainable aviation industry in the country.
Backed up by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the second flag carrier will be led by the industry’s veteran Tony Douglas, former chief executive of Etihad, Saudi news agency SPA announced in a statement.
In the ambitious plans of Saudi Arabia, the new carrier Riyadh Air is aiming to be the largest airline in terms of revenue across the Middle East, beating the industry’s Gulf rivals such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Etihad.
In addition, the new carrier is expected to add $20 billion to the country’s non-oil GDP growth and produce over 200,000 jobs both directly and indirectly, according to the statement.
Operating from Riyadh as its hub, the airline, formerly going by the moniker RIA, will usher to make King Khalid International Airport (RUH) the gateway between the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. According to the statement, Riyadh Air expects to grow its route network to 100 destinations by 2030.
However, to meet the growing demand for international and intercontinental travel, the new company will need to focus on developing a fleet strategy centered around widebody aircraft.
While, the official statement did not include any information on the fleet strategy yet, multiple reports revealed that Riyadh Air was in talks with both aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. In October 2022, the new carrier was in advanced negotiations with the European aircraft manufacturer to purchase at least 40 Airbus A350 widebody jets.
As per a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, Riyadh Air and Boeing were nearing a potential deal for the purchase of widebody aircraft worth $35 billion. While the report did not indicate the aircraft type, the airline could be housing a future fleet of Boeing 787s and 777s, much like Saudia’s widebody fleet at the moment.
Two flag carriers representing one country
Saudi Arabia is now home to two national airlines, both serving as the kingdom’s flag carriers. In a unique move, Riyadh Air is not intended to replace Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) but rather to work alongside the existing flag carrier by offering different services.
Saudia currently serves more than 90 destinations across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and North America. From its base at Jeddah Airport (JED), the airline operates a fleet of 150 aircraft, including 43 Airbus A320s, 35 Boeing 777s, 32 Airbus A330s, 18 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, 15 Airbus A321s, four Boeing 777Fs, and three Boeing 747Fs, according to ch-aviation.com.
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