Saudi Arabian Airlines or Saudia is in negotiations with Airbus and Boeing about a new widebody order for an unspecified number of aircraft. The airline says it needs the aircraft for the expansion of its network, which it has plans to grow from ninety destinations now to 135 by 2030. The news was reported by Reuters earlier in the week during Dubai Airshow, but AirInsight sat down with Saudia’s manager of corporate affairs, Abdullah M. Alshahrani, at the airshow. Saudia works on new widebody order for growth plans.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a clear strategic Vision 2030 to develop the country and attract more visitors. By doing so, it wants to grow its airlines Saudia and its low-cost carrier flyadeal as well as FlyNas. In March, the airlines secured the financing of $3.0 billion for 73 aircraft, including 20 Airbus A321neo’s and 15 A321XLRs for Saudia and 30 A320neo’s for flyadeal. Saudia also agreed on eight Boeing 787-10s. Airbus’ orders list from October shows 30 A320neo’s (of which three have been delivered) and 35 A321neo’s (including 16 XLRs) as on order. FlyNas has 10 A321neo’s still on order and has taken delivery of 11 A320neo’s out of 78 on order, with another nine sourced from elsewhere.

About the new order, Alshahrani says: “We are still in discussions with the manufacturing, it is still under evaluation. But this and the financing agreement announced earlier are indications that the vision of Saudia as a holding is something ambitious. We see many chances to create Saudi Arabia into a new destination that annually attracts 100 million visitors. Our role is to bring them into the country as the wings of the kingdom.”

Saudia currently operates a fleet of 154 aircraft, including 32 Airbus A330-300s, 39 Boeing 777-300ERs, 13 787-9s, 5 -10s, while four 747-400s are also still active. It also has 46 Airbus A320ceo’s and 15 A321ceo’s.

Saudia’s Abdullah Alshahrani sat down with AirInsight at Dubai Airshow. (Richard Schuurman)

While there have been reports that Saudia Arabia plans a second national airline, Alshahrani says: “There is no official announcement about the plan for a second national carrier.” But with a target of getting in as many as even 300 million passengers to the country, either Saudia will have to expand drastically of creating a second airline makes sense after all. “If you would want to reach this number, you would need Saudia to grow ten times the number of passengers we have flown in 2019.”

Saudia announced a number of agreements at the Dubai Airshow, the first time it attended the event. It signed a contract with Boeing Global Services for the Optimized Maintenance Program (OMP) and Airplane Health Management (AHM) for the existing 777 and 787 fleets. Boeing will also assist Saudia with cabin updates on the triple seven fleet.  

The carrier also signed other contracts in Dubai: “Our target to come here to Dubai Airshow was to sign agreements with manufacturers, like Honeywell, Thales, and Leonardo. They will help not just Saudia but also Saudia Arabia and even the Middle East region”, said Alsahrani. “For example, the contract with Honeywell is about the auxiliary power unit (APU). If you want to repair it or overhaul it, you have to send it all the way to the US or Europe. That will cost you millions. By having that in Jeddah, you can send it next door and only truck it there. That not only benefits us but also other airlines in the UAE or Kuwait. It also confirms the manufacturer has the confidence in our capabilities.”

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Richard Schuurman
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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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