Saudia Arabia has announced ambitious plans to build an enormous new airport in Riyadh, which will cover a huge 57 square kilometres, have six parallel runways and have the capacity to handle 185 million passengers per year.
The multi-billion-dollar project, which could take nearly three decades to complete, was officially unveiled on Sunday by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is aiming to modernise and transform the conservative Muslim Kingdom.
The airport will be the hub for a new Saudi airline which is tipped to be called RIA (Riyadh International Airlines) – an international carrier that will appeal to Europeans and Western values as part of Prine Salman’s ambitions to turn Saudi Arabia into a major tourism hub.
RIA is also aiming to emulate the success of regional airlines like Emirates and Qatar Airways by targeting transfer passengers heading from West to East and vice versa by using the Middle East as a convenient stopover point.
Like Riyadh’s new airline, the city’s new King Salman International Airport will be bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The masterplan for the new airport says its aim is to “stimulate transport, trade and tourism, and act as a bridge linking the East with the West.”
The airport, which officials claim will be powered with renewable energy, will also have the task of turning Riyadh into one of the top 10 city economies in the world.
Within just eight years, the airport will be rapidly expanded to handle 120 million passengers per year and by 2050, this figure is meant to rise to a staggering 185 million passengers per year.
The airport will be built on the site of Riyadh’s existing King Khalid International Airport and will include its existing terminal buildings, although passenger traffic could be separated between conservative travellers and Western travellers.
As a comparison, Dubai International Airport (DXB) handled 89 million passengers in 2018, with the airport operating at near full capacity. The planned replacement for DXB, Dubai World Central, is a larger airport 23 miles southwest of downtown Dubai which is designed to eventually handle 250 million passengers annually, although work on this project has been put on hold indefinitely.
The current busiest airport in the world, Atlanta Hartsfield, handled around 110 million passengers in 2019, but this also includes U.S. domestic travel, whereas King Salman International Airport will be targeting long-haul international air traffic.
Few details of the new airport have yet been revealed, but Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund says Saudi culture will be taken into consideration in the airport’s design and sustainability will be built into the core of the airport.
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.