Saudi Arabia plans to launch a brand new international airline that would take on regional rivals like Emirates and Qatar Airways according to sources who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. The government has refused to confirm the plans after word of the new luxury carrier leaked last week.
The progressive but controversial Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is keen to diversify the oil-rich Kingdom’s economy but efforts to open Saudi Arabia to tourists in late 2019 were quickly suspended when the pandemic struck.
Saudi officials are, however, readying themselves to start issuing tourist visas soon as part of the country’s massive investment in international luxury tourism. As many as 100 million tourists could visit Saudi Arabia over the next ten years with tourism contributing around 10 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product.
In order to appeal to a wider and more liberal market, government officials are said to be actively considering plans to launch an entirely new international airline that would attempt to emulate the success of regional behemoths Emirates and Qatar Airways.
Unlike the state-owned Saudia Airlines, the new carrier would potentially serve alcohol to non-Muslims and have a less stringent dress code policy that would allow men to wear shorts and women even possibly to uncover their shoulders.
Saudia would be spun-off to handle Hajj pilgrimage services from its Jeddah hub, while there’s even talk of a new airport in Riyadh to act as a hub for the new and yet to be named airline. That would then allow Western visitors to be carefully separated from from conservative Saudi passengers.
Sources claim the new airline would even try to take on Emirates and Qatar Airways by copying the same route networks and acting as a hub to transport passengers on long-haul routes via Riyadh.
The plan isn’t, though, without a high degree of risk. Oil-rich Abu Dhabi invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Etihad Airways only to see the carrier rack up huge losses. The government is now pursuing a turnaround strategy that will see Etihad become a boutique regional carrier alongside budget airlines like Wizz Air and Air Arabia.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.