“Flyadeal” to Fly – Saudia’s new Airline marks shakeup in Kingdom’s air carriers

What do you think of the name “Flyadeal”?

Flyadeal is the name of a new budget airline that will launch in Saudi Arabia in mid 2017. Owned by the country’s flag carrier Saudia, the new airline will fly both domestic and international routes from a hub in Jeddah using Airbus A320s. Saudia are saying they want to take advantage of rising tourist numbers in the Kingdom.

The carrier certainly puts its pricing intention up front!  Saleh Al-Jasser, Saudia’s director general was reported to say:  “The new airline aims to deliver value for money to cost-conscious customers. It will be a single-class low-fare carrier, which means we are focused on getting people from A to B for a fair price,

As the video below shows the airline promises “Low Cost. High Value”.

I have been to Saudi Arabia twice, once with Etihad and once with Gulf. In addition to the key Middle Eastern carriers,  a huge array of airlines connect the kingdom to  the world.  Traffic is, of course, dominated by Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia ).

Domestically,  Saudia has only one competitor:  budget carrier FlyNAS. National Air Services started as NASair in 2007 and rebranded flyNas in 2013. The airline also added a business class at that time. They will be left a little worried after this week’s announcement, I expect. No doubt Saudia are going to want to take advantage of the Kingdom’s growing air traffic but also compete more heavily with FlyNAS.

Another carrier, Sama Airlines, operated from 20o7 to 2010 before collapsing with a mountain of debt.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 6.38.40 PMTwo new airlines have been waiting in the wings since receiving permission to operate in 2012. Qatar Airways set up Al Maha Airlines with an intention to have started flying by December 2014.  The launch was then postponed to December 2015 and then mid-2016 due to “regulatory reasons“. Al Maha means “oryx” in Arabic. Their planes and will carry the Qatar Airways logo in green to match Saudi Arabia’s national colors. I think Al Maha will find a way to fly.

SaudiGulf Airlines, advertises itself as a “Boutique” carrier. A spinoff of Bahrain-based Gulf Air,  with backing from the Al Qahtani Group, it was meant to start flying in December 2015. Then the date was set for April 2016. No sign yet of permission for the carrier to actually fly. I am more pessimistic about ever seeing SaudiGulf in the air.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 6.41.12 PM

Some are saying the delays in approving these competitors are part of an effort to protect Saudia.

The flag carrier is itself,  in the midst of a massive transformation project. This year, they launched a special VIP service called Al Bayraq between Riyadh and Jeddah on Airbus A319 aircraft aimed at to VIPs and businessmen who fly regularly between the two cities. Saudia are also are aiming to increase their current fleet of 119 to 200 by 2020. They received the first of eight Dreamliners in February this year.

If Al Maha and SaudiGulf Airlines do eventually launch and flyNAS manages to thrive, then the kingdom will go from two to five airlines by mid-2017. Without massive tourist and business traffic increases, expect corporate casualties. Who will blink first?

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