Saudi Arabian start-up carrier Riyadh Air is aiming to begin certification flights in September, as it seeks to commence commercial services next year.

The airline’s chief executive, Tony Douglas, stated at the Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh on 20 May that it had hired its initial cadre of 38 pilots including instructors.

He says the certification flights, as the carrier works to secure an air operator’s certificate, would take place over September-November. The airline will operate a fleet of Boeing 787s.

“We’ll go into service in the summer of next year,” he adds. “The energy in the place is absolutely palpable. It’s all about the excitement of a start-up.”

Tony Douglas-c-Future Aviation Forum

Source: Future Aviation Forum 2024

Douglas highlights a need for connectivity from the Saudi capital

Riyadh Air has also newly received its third intake of cabin crew, says Douglas, signalling that the airline would unveil cabin crew uniforms during the upcoming Paris Fashion Week event in June.

He says this will give a “statement of what this brand’s all about”, adding that the airline will also show off its digital proposition later this year.

While the relationship between Riyadh Air and current flag-carrier Saudia has yet to become clear – particularly in relation to competition for transfer traffic – the two airlines will hub in different cities, Riyadh Air in the capital and Saudia in Jeddah.

Douglas points out that the two cities are 800km apart, some 2h flying time.

“We’ve a need to get from Riyadh – the capital city – far greater connectivity,” he says. “We’re going to connect to way over 100 destinations by 2030.”

He says Riyadh Air has “10 years’ worth of catching-up to do” in order to give Saudi citizens “the connectivity they deserve”, stating that there are no non-stop services to such cities as Tokyo and Shanghai.

“This is simply unacceptable for a G20 country,” he adds.

Saudia disclosed during the forum that it had ordered over 100 Airbus A320neo-family jets. Douglas says that the agreement “reinforces the amount of energy in the kingdom and its understanding of the importance of global connectivity”.

“Demand for travel is far greater than our ability to supply it at this point in time,” he says.