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Riyadh Air expands with fleet of narrowbody jets

Riyadh Air CEO Tony Douglas at the unveiling of the airline's livery. The company is waiting on its first order of Boeing Dreamliner 787s SPA
Riyadh Air CEO Tony Douglas at the unveiling of the airline's livery. The company is waiting on its first order of Boeing Dreamliner 787s
  • Airline will replace Saudia in capital
  • No confirmation if new jets are Boeings
  • Widebody fleet ready for mid-2025

The new Saudi airline Riyadh Air will announce a fleet of narrowbody jets later this year for a first-phase expansion that will eventually include a new terminal to meet Saudi tourism ambitions.

Although its widebody aircraft come from the troubled manufacturer Boeing, Riyadh Air declined to say if the latest narrowbody orders would be from the same supplier. 

Riyadh Air’s chief commercial officer, Vincent Coste, speaking to AGBI at the Arabian Tourism Market exhibition in Dubai, said the airline had ordered 72 widebody Boeing Dreamliner 787s and was making sure they are delivered on time for the start of operations in mid-2025 with no delays. “We are interacting with them on a daily basis,” he said.

Asked about recent revelations from Boeing whistleblowers about safety concerns and several in-flight incidents involving Boeing aircraft, Coste said: “When it comes to the Dreamliners, it’s an excellent aircraft, we are very confident in this widebody aircraft. The narrowbody order will come down the line, so now our top focus is the Dreamliner.”

Asked if the narrowbody orders would be from Boeing, he said: “We’ve not made any announcement.” 

The complaints and incidents surrounding Boeing have focused on the new narrowbody Boeing 747 Max. 

Riyadh Air, owned by the Public Investment Fund, is intended to replace the state-owned Saudia in the capital, and cater to tourist expansion.

The government is aiming for more than 150 million visitors a year by 2030 as part of the country’s massive economic transformation programme. Tourism is targeted to cover 10 percent of non-oil GDP

Total international visitors last year were under 30 million, almost half of which was religious tourism. The government said earlier this year it achieved 100 million in 2023 but that figure includes total flights made into the country, including domestic trips. 

Coste said Riyadh Air would use Riyadh’s existing terminal halls until 2030, when it will have its own terminal at a new airport designed by British architects Foster & Partners. He said construction would begin later this year.  

“Overall we are completely aligned with the market that Saudi tourism wants to target and where we are going to fly… capacity, destination, frequency are aligned with their targets,” Coste said. He said that Riyadh Air would operate some domestic routes. 

“We are still assessing domestic flights. We will probably fly some domestic destinations but we’ll work closely with existing Saudi carriers.”  

At launch, the carrier will fly to a few major destinations but rapidly ramp them up, with a focus on Asia in particular. It hopes to steal some of the long-haul stopover market from regional cities. 

“We will be adding an average of two destinations every month over five years so we’re creating an engine based in Riyadh,” Coste said, declining to name the opening city. 

“You take the top traffic flows to and from Riyadh and it’ll give you a flavour of where we will fly in 2025. A widebody typically operates along a long-haul and short or medium flight every day, so we’ll open a few destinations from the start.”

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