Saudi Arabia Announces Creation of New National Airline

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Today, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman officially announced the formation of a new national airline, Riyadh Air. It will become the kingdom’s second flag carrier, and the plan is to position it as a worthy competitor with the Middle East’s already well-established airlines, such as Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines. It has tapped 40-year aviation industry veteran Tony Douglas, former CEO of Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, as CEO.

As its name suggests, Riyadh Air will operate out of Saudi Arabia’s capital city. Its home base will be the region’s planned King Salman International Airport, which the government hopes to establish as a global aviation hub to rival leading regional transportation centers like Doha and Dubai.

Riyadh Air aims to serve over 100 global destinations by the year 2030, leveraging, “Saudi Arabia’s strategic geographic location between the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe, enabling Riyadh to become a gateway to the world and a global destination for transportation, trade, and tourism,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

It’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has over $600 billion in assets and is the main agency driving the kingdom’s economic diversification strategies in order to reduce its reliance on petroleum production.

The newly-formed airline represents the PIF’s latest investment in expanding the kingdom’s tourism sector, something which it is making a concerted effort to grow post-pandemic. Its establishment aligns with the Saudi National Transport and Logistics Strategy and the National Tourism Strategy by helping to expand air transport options, grow international passenger numbers and increase cargo capacity.

Ambitions surrounding the creation of this new national carrier are lofty, to put it mildly. In its announcement, the government-owned outlet affirmed, “the airline will usher in a new era for the travel and aviation industry globally. Riyadh Air will be a world-class airline, adopting the global best sustainability and safety standards across its advanced fleet of aircraft equipped with the latest cutting-edge technology.”

Rendering of King Salman International Airport, Saudi Arabia. (image courtesy of Foster + Partners)

When Saudi Arabia first opened its borders to international tourists in 2019, a specified goal of the Crown Prince’s ‘Vision 2030’ reform agenda was to increase tourism’s contribution to Saudi Arabia’s GDP from its present three percent to 10 percent. NDTV reported that one of the initiative’s goals is to more than triple current visitor numbers to 330 million passengers by the end of the decade, as well as increase cargo capacity to reach five million tons annually.

Saudi transport minister Saleh Al-Jasser tweeted that the Crown Prince’s announcement, “represents the emergence of a new dawn for the future of air transport, as we are witnessing a huge package of projects, the largest ever in the history of aviation in the Kingdom; To consolidate our country’s position as an international hub for aviation and a global logistics center.”

Once operational, it’s estimated that Riyadh Air will contribute $20 billion to the growth of the nation’s non-oil GDP, as well as directly and indirectly provide employment for more than 200,000 people.

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Source: TravelPulse

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