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Emirates in expansion drive as new Saudi rival orders 72 jets 

Emirates Emirates Media Centre
Nigeria’s aviation minister Hadi Sirika says around $35 million still needs to be released
  • Dubai airline has grown operations by 31% since last April 
  • Company to expand global network and boost seat capacity this year
  • Newly launched Riyadh Air orders up to 72 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners

Dubai’s flag carrier Emirates is doubling down on plans to expand its route network and flight capacity as competition for air travel in the Middle East sharpens with the launch of Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Air. 

Emirates said in a statement on Tuesday it has boosted operations by 31 percent based on available seat kilometre (askm – an indicator of airline capacity) since the start of its financial year on April 1 2022.

It said it wants to exceed this figure in the 2023 financial year starting March 26, by significantly growing its route network and flight schedule. 

“Our financial year started relatively quietly as we held back our ramp up until the planned northern runway rehabilitation programme at Dubai International Airport was completed in June,” said Emirates chief commercial officer Adnan Kazim. “From July 2022 onwards, it’s been non-stop expansion.”

Emirates faces competition from an increasingly active Gulf aviation industry, which is enjoying a boost from the post-pandemic recovery in global and regional air travel. 

On Sunday Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman formally announced the creation of a new national airline, Riyadh Air, wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Riyadh Air will launch its first international flight in early 2025 and connect the kingdom to more than 100 destinations by 2030, PIF said. 

Saudi Arabia hopes to boost the number of passengers through its 29 airports from 100 million to 330 million by the end of the decade under Vision 2030.

Analysts told AGBI this week that the launch of Riyadh Air would intensify rivalry and lead to price wars – the Gulf is already home to major airlines including Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways.

This week the new airline cemented its ambitions for the kingdom to become a global aviation hub by ordering up to 72 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft – 39 confirmed planes with an option to acquire an additional 33 – in a deal whose value was undisclosed.

The order is the fifth largest commercial order by value in Boeing’s history, said PIF.

Emirates said it has reintroduced services to five global cities in the past year following a break in services during the pandemic.

It also launched flights to one new destination (Tel Aviv) and added 251 weekly flights onto existing routes. 

Kazim said: “Emirates is working hard on several fronts to bring back operating capacity as quickly as the ecosystem can manage, while also upgrading our fleet and product.”