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Third Chinese airline to launch flights to Saudi Arabia

Passengers at Beijing Capital International Airport. Air China will fly from the airport to Riyadh three times a week. Alamy via Reuters
Passengers at Beijing Capital International Airport. Air China will fly from the airport to Riyadh three times a week.
  • Air China flights begin in May
  • Kingdom wants 4 million Chinese visitors
  • $17bn FDI from China

Air China is set to begin flights to Riyadh in May, becoming the third Chinese airline to establish a route to Saudi Arabia.

It joins China Southern and Eastern Airlines in connecting China with the kingdom. 

Air China’s Airbus A330-300 will serve the Beijing-Riyadh route three times a week.

The expansion in capacity between the two countries comes as part of an initiative under the Saudi Air Connectivity Program, which aims to enhance air connectivity to unserved and underserved markets.

Both nations anticipate increased trade and dialogue across various sectors through this “Air Silk Road” initiative, in line with Saudi Arabia’s efforts to deepen economic ties with China.

Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s biggest economy, attracted nearly $17 billion in foreign direct investment from China last year, underscoring the strategic importance of these enhanced air links.

The surge in capacity is also part of Saudi Arabia’s aggressive push to boost its tourism and aviation sectors as part of its Vision 2030 plan to diversify away from oil.

The kingdom is aiming to attract 150 million visitors annually by 2030 and increase passenger throughput at its airports from 100 million to 330 million.

China represents immense potential to help it achieve this goal as it is expected to be Saudi Arabia’s third-largest source market by the end of the decade.

During a meeting in March last year between Chinese deputy minister of culture and tourism Rao Quan and Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO and member of the Board of Saudi Tourism Authority, it was stated that Saudi Arabia is aiming to attract more than four million visitors from China by 2030.

But John Grant, partner at UK consultancy Midas Aviation, said in an AGBI column this week that reaching the total passenger target by 2030 remains a formidable challenge for Saudi Arabia.

He noted that no major established aviation market has ever delivered over 20 percent growth per annum over such a time period.

“To meet its targets, the kingdom will need to grow its international capacity and also attract more international airline capacity as part of its mix,” he said.

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