Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday the creation of Riyadh Air, its second national airline, displaying its ambition to make Riyadh an air hub capable of competing with its Gulf competitors.
Riyadh Air, based in the capital and owned by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, aims to “launch flights to more than 100 destinations worldwide by 2030,” the official SPA agency said.
The new carrier will be headed by Tony Douglas, the former head of Etihad Airways, the Abu Dhabi-based Emirati carrier, it said.
The oil-rich monarchy is pursuing ambitious goals as part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmane’s sweeping reform program, with the ambition of tripling its air traffic to 330 million passengers by the end of the decade.
Last November, the authorities announced the construction of a new 57-square-kilometer airport in the capital, which is expected to handle 120 million passengers by 2030 and 185 million passengers by 2050.
Riyadh Air will operate a “fleet of state-of-the-art aircraft,” the SPA agency said, without specifying the number or type of aircraft.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the sovereign wealth fund was “close to an agreement” with the aircraft manufacturer Boeing for an order “valued at $35 billion”.
The kingdom’s busiest international airport is currently in Jeddah, on the Red Sea, where the national airline Saudia is based.
This coastal city welcomes millions of Muslims every year for the hajj and Umrah (small pilgrimage) to Mecca.
The authorities have been trying for some years to position Riyadh as a rival to the regional business center, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, whose airline is the largest in the Middle East.
The Saudi capital currently has a population of eight million, but the authorities hope to increase that number to over 15 million by 2030.
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