Saudi Arabian national carrier Saudia is reporting a significant increase in its number of transit passengers, as the airline grows rapidly and seeks to become a rival to the “ME3” of Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.
Commercial aviation in Saudi Arabia is growing rapidly. Domestically, the liberalization of air services has led to five airlines competing for passengers compared to only two a few years ago; this has led to greater competition, a lowering of fares and stimulation of the market.
There is also a major drive underway by the Saudi government to increase tourism traffic, notably religious tourism to the spiritual home of Islam, as part of an economic diversification program.
However, Saudia drew attention May 15 to a surge in transit passengers through its home airports, notably Jeddah and Riyadh. While not revealing actual figures, Saudia said that transit passenger numbers were up 115% in 2018 compared to 2017.
The greatest growth in numbers of connecting passengers came from Europe and Asia-Pacific, both of which recorded leaps of 178%. North American-originating transit passengers rose by 154% while growth from other Middle East countries was 144%.
Saudia carried 34 million passengers in 2018 and, for the first time in its history, international passengers outnumbered those on domestic sectors, with just over 17 million being carried on international services.
Saudia began a five-year transformation program in 2016 and is accepting new aircraft at a rapid rate. Its fleet has now passed the 150 mark and is planned to reach 200 in 2020.
Growth in the international sector is due to a combination of new destinations and increasing capacity on existing routes. This is being aided by a major expansion of Jeddah’s previously overcrowded King Abdulaziz International Airport.
Saudia has major ambitions; previously somewhat overlooked by international passengers unless they were travelling direct to Saudi Arabia, a senior Saudia official told ATW during March’s first Saudi International Airshow at Al Thumamah, near Riyadh, that the airline was becoming steadily more self-confident and planned to market itself more vigorously in coming months.