Saudia weighs bumper jetliner order to reach 250-strong fleet
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Saudia weighs bumper jetliner order to reach 250-strong fleet

Saudia weighs bumper jetliner order to reach 250-strong fleet

The carrier is targeting a fleet of 250 aircraft by 2030

Saudi Arabian Airlines is contemplating an aircraft order from Airbus or Boeing Co. that could total well above 100 jets as part of a push to lure more tourists.

The carrier is targeting a fleet of 250 aircraft by 2030, adding around 100 for growth while renewing a significant chunk of an existing 150-plane fleet, chief executive officer Ibrahim Koshy said in an interview on Monday. Most of the requirement is for twin-aisle planes, though options for Airbus narrow-bodies could be converted to firm orders.

Known as Saudia, the airline had an order blueprint ready at the end of 2019 as part of the government’s Vision 2030 plan to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil. But it was put on hold after the coronavirus pandemic grounded flights, and the fleet study has been revised several times, Koshy said. The company is now resolved to make a firm decision on purchases next year.

“We are in close negotiations with Airbus and Boeing for the wide-body fleet order,” the CEO said at the Dubai Airshow. “We have the narrow-body orders currently secured, though the fleet plan may determine additional planes.”

Deliveries would most likely come beyond 2024 once demand is more fully recovered from Covid-19, he said.

Saudia already has 35 Airbus A320neo-series narrow-bodies on order, with the same number of options, though some of those are held by sister discount carrier Flyadeal. Koshy didn’t say whether the wide-bodies would be ordered in a single deal or from a single manufacturer. Saudia’s current wide-body fleet features older Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s, with about 30 of each, plus new 787 Dreamliners.

The CEO said he sees room for Flyadeal and Saudia, focused on its hub in Jeddah, pilgrimage traffic to Mecca and an emerging tourism industry focused on the Red Sea, alongside a wholly new airline that the government plans to launch at a brand new airport in the capital Riyadh.

He said the aim isn’t to compete with other hubs in the Gulf, operated by carriers such as Qatar Airways and Dubai-based Emirates, but to service demand in Saudi Arabia as it targets 100 million tourist visitors plus 35 million Hajj and Umrah pilgrims under the government’s growth plan.

“The pie is getting bigger,” Koshy said. “There is a lot of regional growth, there’s growth in tourism, and a lot of growth in economies and even manufacturing in certain areas of the Middle East.”

All told, the Vision 2030 plan is targeting direct links to 250 cities, and if the Saudia group accounts for 150 or even 200 of them, “there’s a lot of opportunity for the other to serve as well,” the CEO said. He declined to speculate on how big the startup’s fleet might be, saying that’s not an issue for Saudia, while suggesting it might use both narrow-body and wide-body jets.

Reuters reported Tuesday that Saudia planned to order new wide-bodies in 2022, without saying how many it might buy.

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