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More low-cost airline routes planned for Saudi Arabia

GACA president Abdulaziz Al-Duailej said licences would be announced soon for more low-cost flights from regional Saudi airports SPA
Saudi civil aviation authority president Abdulaziz Al-Duailej said licences would be announced soon for more low-cost flights from regional Saudi airports
  • Regional airports to be privatised
  • Passenger capacity expansion
  • eVTOLs to be used during Hajj season

Plans to privatise domestic airports have been announced by Saudi Arabia as part of an aviation expansion strategy, which includes imminent licences for more low-cost airline routes, the kingdom’s civil aviation authority said this week. 

The General Authority of Civil Aviation has signed an agreement with a consortium led by the Turkish airport operator TAV to expand Medina airport, which TAV has operated since 2015, from a capacity of 8 million to 17 million by 2028, the authority’s president, Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, told an aviation forum in Riyadh on May 20.

“We’ve launched a programme of privatising other regional airports, like Abha, which is a tourist hub,” Al-Duailej said.

“The capacity of the current airport is 1.5 million, we’re expanding it to 13 million.”

An invitation for bids was issued in January. 

“More than 100 companies including airport operators, [construction] contractors and investors are interested in participating in that airport,” Al-Duailej said.

“It’s a testament to the strength of the Saudi economy and of the aviation strategy.

“Many other regional airports we are developing in privatisation.” 

Saudi Arabia wants tourism to cover 10 percent of GDP by 2030 as part of its vast economic transformation programme.

Many tourism projects are in the western part of the country, such as the Red Sea coast, the mountains of Abha and the pre-Islamic ruins of AlUla. 

A new international carrier, Riyadh Air, will begin operations next year, alongside Saudia, which ordered a further 105 Airbus widebody aircraft this week. 

Al-Duailej said licences would be announced soon for more low-cost flights out of specific airports, adding to current operators such as the Saudi-owned Flynas and the UAE-based Flydubai and Air Arabia. 

“We’re expanding in low-cost, with new [licences] to be announced soon in Dammam and another in Medina and other regional airports. The low-cost model is disrupting the market,” he said. 

“We’ve seen the low-cost market increase from 27 percent to 42 percent in the domestic market and from 16 percent to 32 percent in its international share.” 

Al-Duailej said total passengers had increased by 20 percent in the first quarter, after ta rise of 26 percent to 112 million in 2023, including a 46 percent rise in international travellers, to 61 million. 

He also said the Hajj pilgrimage season in June would mark the first use in Saudi Arabia of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs.

Religious tourism still accounts for almost half of Saudi Arabia’s international arrivals. 

“In a city like Riyadh we need to have this kind of mobility and in the next Hajj season in less than a month we are going to have our first eVTOL trial,” Al-Duailej said. 

“Advanced air mobility is coming. It’s an important segment of the market. The challenge is on us as regulators.”

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