Saudi Arabia finally confirmed on Sunday that it is working on ambitious plans to launch a brand new international airline that will aim to go head-to-head with regional rivals like Emirates and Qatar Airways.
A launch date for the new airline is yet to be confirmed, but the carrier says it intends to serve 100 destinations globally within the next seven years – a breakneck expansion plan that will test Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure and the ability of Airbus and Boeing to deliver enough jets.
For the past year, the airline has simply been known by the codename ‘RIA’, but on Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund announced the establishment of Riyadh Air.
Riyadh Air will be bankrolled and 100 per cent owned by the Saudi Arabian government. At its helm, it has been confirmed that ex-Etihad Airways chief executive Tony Douglas has agreed to take on the challenge of launching the airline.
Douglas, who successfully turned Etihad Airways into a profit-making airline after the airline racked up huge multi-billion-dollar losses, suddenly left the Abu Dhabi flag carrier last October.
At the time, it was rumored that he had been poached by the Saudis to take on the RIA project, although in January, his involvement in the company had looked in doubt after anonymous sources briefed local media that Douglas had left Riyadh.
Riyadh Air will become one of two national carriers in Saudi Arabia and will attempt to emulate the success of Emirates by leveraging the Kingdom’s “strategic geographic location between the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe” by attracting transit passengers heading from East to West and vice versa.
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia was close to striking a $35 billion deal with aircraft manufacturer Boeing for a mix of widebody and single-aisle aircraft.
The Boeing deal alone could involve 100 or more jets and a separate deal with rival manufacturer Airbus is also in the works.
Some of the new aircraft have been earmarked for long-running national carrier Saudia which will focus its operations out of Jeddah and continue to serve conservative and religious passengers.
Riyadh Air, meanwhile, will attempt to woo a much more cosmopolitan mix of passengers, albeit with “authentic, warm Saudi hospitality at its heart”.
The airline will be based out of a brand new Foster + Partners designed airport that will be capable of handling around 185 million passengers per year. King Salman International Airport will cover a huge 57 square kilometres, have six parallel runways and have the capacity to handle 185 million passengers per 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.