The future of aviation sector in Saudi Arabia

March 01, 2023
Asim Abdulfattah
Asim Abdulfattah

By Asim Abdulfattah

The aviation sector in Saudi Arabia is witnessing an exponential growth associated with several changes in the infrastructure, starting with the ultimate goal of localizing all aviation related jobs, developing airports, and creating national airlines.

The movement of localizing jobs is being administered by the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA). In January 2021, GACA launched the initiative to empower the Saudi aviation sector by localizing 10,000 jobs.

This approach serves the aspirations of Vision 2030 and opens doors for qualified Saudis to work in the field. In response to localization, Saudi Arabian Airlines has recently announced that all its first-officer pilots are Saudis and other carriers are on the same path.

Another major development is the expansion of King Abdulaziz International Airport that cost $7.2 billion. According to Reuters, “the Minister of Transport and Logistics Saleh Al Jasser revealed that the Kingdom will invest approximately $133 billons within this decade to develop the aviation sector”.

Such expansions are in place to accommodate future plans to host 330 million tourists by 2030.

In addition to developing airports around the Kingdom, there is NEOM Bay Airport which received the first flight on June 30, 2019. This airport is classified as a commercial hub by International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Also, this airport is “a key enabler of NEOM’s development, facilitating efficient access to NEOM for residents and business partners, and drastically improving the ease with which NEOM can connect with people from all over the world” said the CEO of NEOM Nadhmi Al-Nasr.

Lastly, as a future proposed project, King Salman International Airport will take place by 2030 in Riyadh. It’s planned that the airport will have 6 parallel runways, a distance of approximately 57 square kilometers, as well as a capacity for 120 million travelers yearly.

Currently, there are 3 carriers operating in the Kingdom.

Saudia airlines — which is known as the National flag carrier, Flyadeal — a subsidiary of Saudia, and Flynas — known for being a low cost carrier.

To expand the aviation market and increase the competition between carriers inside Saudi Arabia, Wizz Air has commenced its first flight from Dammam to Rome. Such flights operated by ultra-low cost carriers (ULLC) provide better prices for travelers from Saudi Arabia to Europe and allow more tourists from Europe to explore Saudi Arabia .

It’s worth mentioning that these flights are conducted by non-based aircraft, which means Wizz airline will not have a base located in the land of KSA. Also, they are expected to reach to 50 aircrafts and serve 26 routes.

The most prominent development is the creation and launch of international airline (RIA), the second national carrier, which will be based out in the capital Riyadh. The blueprint for RIA is to be a major competitor for big airlines around the world.

In my opinion, all these developments will provide the Kingdom with many growth opportunities in tourism and aviation sectors; given in mind the strategical location of Saudi Arabia which links three continents.

— The writer is a First officer at Saudia airlines. He can be reached on his Twitter account @Asimabdulfattah

March 01, 2023
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