DALLAS — Saudia (SV), the national airline of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has announced its complete withdrawal from Riyadh King Khalid International Airport (RUH) by 2030. The decision entails transferring all operations in the capital city to the newly established airline, Riyadh Air (RX).
After more than 70 years of significant presence, SV will entrust the entire business of the capital city to Riyadh Air (RX), an airline founded in March of this year that aims to operate nearly 300 aircraft in the next decade. In contrast, SV will focus its flights exclusively on King Abdulaziz International Airport, aka Jeddah International Airport (JED).
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud signed the Saudi Aviation Strategy Plan in May 2022, initially outlining this extensive plan. In an exclusive interview with Airways, both airlines confirmed that the hub transfer will be finalized by 2030.
Riyadh Air to Take Over Traffic in the Capital
During the Dubai Airshow 2023, Peter Bellew, the COO of Riyadh Air, unveiled RX’s fleet and network strategy plans. Additionally, he shared the details of the future transformation of the Saudi aviation market, stating, “Saudia has more business than it can handle with the current fleet down in Jeddah. They will, over time, move back to Jeddah.”
Bellew further explained, “We are cooperating with them in many ways, but if you think about it, the capital is Riyadh, and our brand is Riyadh. We will promote the capital and all its attractions as we move around the world.”
Bellew also mentioned that the airline had already begun the application process for the Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) and that it had already hired the first 20 pilots. RX remains confident that the official launch will occur in 2025, as initially announced.
Saudia Bets on the “Jeddah Hub”
Allowing RX to establish its ambitious hub project in the capital of Saudi Arabia is just one component of SV’s comprehensive fleet and network strategy.
In a separate conversation with Airways, Abdullah Alshahrani, the Media Affairs General Manager at Saudia (SV), explained, “We have a pillar in our transformation program called ‘Jeddah Hub’. Riyadh Air will concentrate on the businesses, compromises, and all activities in Riyadh. Saudia will concentrate on Hajj and Umrah, tourism, and west coast projects.”
By 2030, the airline anticipates a significant increase in passenger traffic, with a projected volume of 330 million passengers per year, which is ten times the current capacity. SV has played a substantial role in the development of the extensive investment in the Red Sea region and its tourism sector, including the Red Sea International Airport (RSI) project. Notably, SV operated the first-ever flight to the RSI on October 29, 2023.
Dual-Airline, Dual-Hub Network
The Saudi aviation market has undergone a complete transformation in just over six months, with the introduction of RX in March and the “new era” of SV in October. As the industry prepares for the emergence of two major airlines operating a combined fleet of two hundred aircraft, questions arise about how these two airlines will coexist in such a vast industry.
On November 12, during the 2023 Dubai Airshow, the airlines signed a codeshare agreement. This partnership aims to create an extensive interconnected network for passengers, leveraging the Riyadh and Jeddah hubs. In the coming years, the Jeddah-Riyadh airbridge is expected to rank among the top ten largest in the world.
However, it is intriguing to consider how the carriers will compete with other airlines in the complex Middle Eastern market—the region serves as a vital connection point for billions of people traveling between the six continents.
The effectiveness and appeal of a dual-airport megahub system for passengers and their layovers remain to be explored. Stay tuned to Airways for the latest updates on the ever-evolving Saudi aviation industry and how this system unfolds.
Featured image: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways