By Riham Darwish*
Echoing the economic strategy crafted by the Saudi Crown Prince over the last several years, plans to establish a new national airline carrier seems to be underway in the Saudi Kingdom.
Even though no reports have so far named the new Saudi airline that is reported to be under development, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund is reportedly financing plans to create Saudi’s second national airline which is supposed to work side-by-side with the 76-years old Saudia.
For decades, GCC airlines have been led by the UAE’s Emirates and Etihad, besides the Doha-based Qatar Airways, a competition that has challenged the success of Saudia Airlines, pushing it back on both the regional and international levels.
Yet, the new Saudi plan is taking notice of the biggest regional economy’s need for a world-class airline, one that can mainly focus on transit travel, especially taking advantage of the kingdom’s strategic geographical location between the east and the west.
This only goes in line with many major economic projects underway in Saudi Arabia, ones that aim to support the country’s efforts to diversify its economic resources and to gradually stop relying on the highly volatile oil industry.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia had already been intensifying its efforts to make the country a tourism and travel hub in the region, announcing art festivals, hosting international stars, inviting well-known social media influencers to cover events, and relaxing strict social rules so it is more tourist-friendly.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has presented a number of mega-projects that would transform the Saudi economy and revolutionize the travel and tourism industry in particular, such as the Line sustainable city.
Besides the new ambitious plan to boost the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia through the new airline, Saudi Arabia is also planning a new airport near the capital city of Riyadh, one that could cost up to $430 USD million.
While the new plan is aimed at making Saudi Arabia the world’s 5th transit hub, which can eventually support the Saudi economy with billions in revenue, in addition to creating thousands of new jobs, many questions are emerging over the timing of this project, especially as global airlines are still suffering the devastating consequences of COVID-19 travel bans and new vital variants keep threatening the continuity of international travel.
Moreover, it is not clear whether the new Saudi airline will be able to compete with its GCC airlines that have attracted international tourists for decades, particularly considering the strict religious rules applied across Saudi Arabia, such as banning serving alcohol and pork meals during flights.
Do you think this new Saudi airline will help support the Saudi economy in the post-pandemic era?