Saudi Arabian Airlines is focusing attention on the long-awaited selection of a new 50- to 70-seat regional aircraft, following the finalisation of its $6 billion purchase of larger-capacity US-built jet airliners.

The national carrier has a total requirement for up to 30 aircraft, but is expected initially to order only ten. Airline interest was originally centred on an either a 50-seat turboprop or jet, but has since been extended up to a 70-seat capacity.

Saudia's evaluation committee is understood to have short-listed the Saab 2000 turboprop, Canadair RJ and Fokker 70 twinjets and the four-engine British Aerospace Avro RJ70/85. Provisional funding has been included in the 1996 budget, and final selection could be made within the next three months.

Performance specifications call for an aircraft capable of operating from any of Saudi Arabia's existing or 26 planned new, airports in demanding hot-and-high conditions. The country's northern and southern domestic hub airports at Hail and Abha are at altitudes of 7,000ft (2,100m) and 7,600ft respectively, with a high temperature of 35o.C.

The selected aircraft will be required to carry a minimum of 48 passengers in a two-class configuration, with 128mm economy and 136mm business-seat pitches. There is the added requirement to carry up to 1,000kg of freight.

Introduction of smaller and more economical passenger aircraft than the Boeing 737-200, now used on domestic services, will allow for new domestic routes to be developed. Specified operating sectors vary from as short as 150km (80nm) up to a maximum of 1,300km range, with annual traffic on some low-density routes as few as 3,000 passengers a year.

Source: Flight International