A new $30 billion airline which is being created in Saudia Arabia is looking to poach the serving chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways according to industry sources who spoke on condition of anonymity to Arabian Business.
The sources claim Tony Douglas, who has been at the helm of Etihad since January 2018, is the “top choice” of top officials at Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund which is behind the new Riyadh-based carrier which will be called ‘RIA’.
The Saudi government has built a $30 billion war chest to create the new airline at breakneck speed with the aim of taking on regional rivals like Emirates and Qatar Airways by targeting international transit passengers.
The airline will model itself on Emirates by serving alcohol and offering a large selection of Western entertainment choices. The Kingdom’s existing international full-service airline, Saudia, will be reconfigured to focus solely on transporting Umrah pilgrims to and from Mecca.
Douglas was headhunted by the Abu Dhabi leadership to run Etihad in late 2017 after the disastrous tenure of James Hogan brought the airline close to the brink of collapse with losses of $1.87 billion.
The former Whitehall bureaucrat was tasked with slashing costs at the loss-making Emirati flag carrier in an attempt to turn its ailing fortunes around. Despite the effects of the pandemic, Etihad reported a core operating profit of US$ 296 million in the first half of 2022.
Etihad was Douglas’ first airline job, but he previously worked for the British Airport Authority and led the construction of the huge Heathrow Terminal 5 project. He has also had plenty of experience working in the Middle East with a senior position at the Abu Dhabi Ports Company.
This experience may come in useful as Saudi Arabia eyes a brand new airport to house RIA as part of the Kingdom’s ambitious plans to increase the number of transit passengers from the current four million to 30 million per year by 2030.
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.