DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Saudia (SV), aka Saudi Arabian Airlines, as the airline was then known, commenced scheduled operations in 1947.
SV’s first aircraft, a Douglas DC-3, arrived in April 1945. It had been a gift from US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud after their historic meeting in the Suez Canal.
Former World War II pilot Captain Joe Grant flew the aircraft to Saudia Arabia. Grant would remain in the country, working as the Saudi royal family’s pilot.
The Saudi Ministry of Defence established Saudi Arabian Airlines as an operating agency in September 1946. By the end of the year, four additional DC-3s had been purchased.
From its new base, Al-Kandara Airport, Haj pilgrim flights were operated to Jeddah from Lydda, Palestine, and other countries. The airline also applied to operate charter flights to London. SV launched scheduled services to Riyadh, Hofuf, Dhahran, and Jeddah.
International services soon followed to Cairo, Damascus, and Beirut. However, domestic expansion was initially slow due to the lack of suitable airfields in the country.
Additional DC-3s were sourced, bringing the total number in the fleet to 15. These were supplemented by five Bristol 170s, allowing the airline to carry passengers and cargo.
A Global Airline
SV grew to become the largest airline in the Middle East during the 1970s and 80s. On May 29, 2012, the carrier returned to its English name, “Saudia”, from Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Today, SV is the Middle East’s third-largest airline, behind Emirates (EK) and Qatar Airways (QR). It operates a varied fleet of Airbus and Boeing airliners to over 80 destinations worldwide.
Saudia will soon be joined by a brand new airline in the country – Riyadh Air. The new venture was announced by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman with the aim of serving as “a catalyst for the Saudi National Transport and Logistics Strategy by increasing air transport options, raising cargo capacity, and growing international passenger traffic.”
Featured image: Saudia Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Photo: Francesco Cecchetti/Airways.