Saudia, the flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, has formally been accepted as the 16th member of the SkyTeam alliance.

The Jeddah-based airline becomes SkyTeam's first member from the Middle East, which the alliance calls an "important economic region".

The airline also officially changed its name from Saudi Arabian Airlines to Saudia on 29 May to coincide with the entry into SkyTeam.

"Saudia's membership adds value to the alliance by opening up the considerable Saudi Arabian market to our customers," says SkyTeam's managing director Michael Wisbrun.

"We are responding to passenger demand for increased travel choice within the Middle East by adding a significant player from the region."

From its hubs in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, Saudia's network encompasses the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and northern Africa.

Its membership adds 51 new destinations to SkyTeam's global network, including 23 within Saudi Arabia. Other international destinations include Pakistan's capital Islamabad, the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, and Alexandria in Egypt.

Prior to joining SkyTeam, Saudia embarked on a four-year turnaround programme that it aims to complete by 2013. This includes changing its corporate identity and name to Saudia, which it used from 1972 to 1996.

As part of its transformation plan, the airline has also modernised its IT, commercial, operational and financial platforms. It has also embarked on a fleet renewal plan by ordering 90 new aircraft.

"Joining SkyTeam is an integral part of Saudia's long-term transformation strategy, which includes rebranding our airline, restructuring core operations and enhancing on-board products and airport services," says Khalid al-Molhem, Saudia's director-general.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news