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Supersonic a future option as Riyadh Air builds fleet

The Neom Investment Fund has a stake in Boom Supersonic Reuters/Alyson McClaran
The Neom Investment Fund has a stake in Boom Supersonic
  • Talks with Boeing ongoing
  • 39 wide-body orders so far
  • Supersonic tech ‘important’

Riyadh Air, Saudi Arabia’s new flagship airline which is set to start flying in 2025, is still in talks with Boeing over further orders for wide and narrow-bodied aircraft. 

“We’re in continued negotiation with manufacturers about aircraft,” chief operating officer Peter Bellew said on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow on Monday.

“We’ve ordered 39 wide-bodied aircraft so far and have an option for up to 72 but it’s not confirmed on narrow-bodied aircraft.”  

There had been speculation that an announcement would be made during the Dubai event. 

Entering a crowded market, Riyadh Air’s initial destinations in the second quarter of 2025 will be the major European cities and destinations on the east coast of the United States and Canada. Many of those airports are already operating close to capacity. 

Bellew said Riyadh Air was closely following the progress of Boom Supersonic, a US-based company developing the world’s fastest airliner.

Saudi Arabia’s newly-launched Neom Investment Fund (NIF) said this week it has invested in Boom Supersonic, which put the total funding to date at more than $700 million. 

“It’s an intriguing project,” Bellew said. “If they deliver the performance and engine technology they’re planning to, it could have a wider influence on the entire design of jet engines over the next 50 years. So we’ll be supportive of them in their plans.”

Asked if Riyadh Air would keep the door open to future purchases, he said: “Yes, I think it’s important.

Riyadh Air revealed its new livery design at the Dubai AirshowRiyadh Air
Riyadh Air revealed its new livery design at the Dubai Airshow

“What they’ve been doing could have significant benefits for the entire industry. It’s a bit like Formula One – hyper technology in Formula One ended up in the smallest production cars.” 

Owned by the Public Investment Fund, Riyadh Air hopes to help Saudi Arabia’s tourism expansion as part of the Vision 2030 project to diversify the economy away from reliance on oil revenues. 

As the region’s largest economy, Saudi Arabia wants to attract 100 million visitors a year by 2030. This would involve 330 million air journeys between 250 destinations and 29 Saudi airports, including a new Riyadh airport to be operational by 2030. 

Bellew said Riyadh Air would complement the existing national carrier Saudia, whose Saudi footprint will be reduced to a focus on Jeddah as its main airport once Riyadh Air starts. 

“It’s having a very successful time at the moment, they have even more business than they can possibly deal with in Jeddah,” Bellew said.

“All of the metal they fly out of Riyadh, they need in Jeddah. It’s complementary to have the two airlines in the two cities.” 

Bellew declined to say how Riyadh Air would approach pricing. Some airlines such as Qatar Airways have begun to cut back on first class as unprofitable while others such as Emirates are promoting innovations such as premium economy. 

“We haven’t revealed the layout of the cabin and that’ll come sometime mid-next year,” he said. “We’ve completed our thinking but haven’t revealed it to the world yet.”

The airline unveiled a second livery on Monday centred on the conventional environmentally friendly and less expensive white, after the blue and lavender colours revealed earlier this year. The company says it plans to use both colour systems on its international fleet. 

Bellew said that as a startup Riyadh Air was positioned to be a pioneer in sustainability. “We don’t have to try and patch up the old system, we can design something that’s quite unique,” he added.

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