Saudi Arabia Announces New Flag-Carrier Riyadh Air

Mohammed bin Salman

The name was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Credit: Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo

Saudi Arabia’s new flag-carrier will be named Riyadh Air, the country’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced.

Formally launching the new airline March 12 in the Saudi capital, he said it would be a wholly owned subsidiary of the country’s sovereign wealth organization the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

In a speech that was short on detail, the crown prince nevertheless confirmed that former Etihad Airways Group CEO Tony Douglas has been appointed CEO. Douglas was reported to have taken the job last autumn but then was said to have pulled out of the position after only two months.

However, neither development was ever confirmed, in keeping with the veil of silence that had descended over the project after it was initially announced by the crown prince in June 2021. The airline’s senior management will include Saudi and international expertise, the crown prince added. Riyadh Air will be chaired by Yasir Al-Rumayyan, PIF’s governor.

The March 12 announcement made no mention of either timescales for establishing the new carrier, or any details of its equipment or route network. Nor was there any word on how the existing flag-carrier, Saudia, fits into the country’s changing aviation landscape.

Saudi Arabia has a vast master plan, Vision 2030, to diversify the country’s economy away from hydrocarbons. Part of this involves developing the country into a major tourism destination and developing Riyadh’s King Salman International Airport into a super-connector hub, similar to that of Dubai or Doha.

The PIF is said to be prepared to invest $30 billion in Riyadh Air to establish the airline, which is planned to serve 100 destinations by 2030.

Announcing Riyadh Air, the crown prince said that the new national carrier would leverage Saudi Arabia’s strategic geographic location between Asia, Africa, and Europe, enabling Riyadh to become a global destination for transportation, trade and tourism. 

He added that the airline is expected to add $20 billion to non-oil GDP growth and create more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs.

As a wholly owned PIF subsidiary, the new national airline will benefit from PIF’s investment expertise and financial capabilities, while expanding on the company’s operations to become a leading national carrier. The new national airline represents PIF’s latest investment in the sector, along with the recently announced King Salman International Airport masterplan.

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.