Saudia Arabia has reportedly built a ‘war chest’ of more than $30 billion to create a new international airline that would specifically try to take on Emirates and other Persian Gulf airlines like Qatar Airways.
The new airline has been rumoured since June 2021, but over the last 12 months plans for the carrier have been fleshed out behind closed doors, and a potential name has even been decided according to sources cited by Arabian Business.
Bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the new airline is tipped to be called ‘RIA’, although any final decision will be made by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman – the controversial architect of Saudi Arabia’s diversification into the tourism market and the country’s wider liberalisation.
Saudia Arabia already has an international flag carrier called Saudia which is based in Jeddah, but the airline is likely to be ‘sidelined’ and reconfigured to focus solely on transporting Umrah pilgrims to and from Mecca.
Saudia will continue to be a ‘dry airline’ with special prayer areas onboard its aircraft, whereas RIA will attempt to emulate the success of Emirates with alcohol readily available and onboard social areas designed to appeal to international travellers.
RIA will be based in Riyadh which will act as the new gateway into the Kingdom’s tourism industry. A new international airport could even be built just for RIA.
“We are talking about a brand-new airline that aims to do what Emirates did in a quarter of the timescale,” an anonymous source told Arabian Business.
“It’s unprecedented in the history of aviation. It’s also why they have yet to appoint a CEO – whoever takes this job will have to deliver the most ambitious targets you can imagine.”
There’s no timeline for when RIA might launch but Saudia Arabia ploughing $100 billion to build its tourism industry and the Kingdom hopes to have 30 million transit passengers passing through the country by 2030.
At present, Saudia and low-cost airlines based in the Kingdom are only handling around four million transit passengers a year.
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.