Pulling Ahead: Saudi Aviation

The eastward shuffle of aviation’s epicentre is quickening to a canter as Saudi Arabia’s vision of becoming a ‘global aviation and logistics powerhouse by 2030’ inches closer to reality.

According to GACA’s National Aviation Sector Strategy, the Saudi government has planned over US$100 billion worth of aviation industry investments under Vision 2030, its economic transformation plan. These include a massive overhaul of airport infrastructure and the launch of a new national airline alongside the three existing carriers, Flynas, Flyadeal and Saudia. A new international airport is to be built in Riyadh; eight new regional ones are planned; air connectivity is to rise to 250 destinations.

A key aim of the aviation strategy is to make the sector more competitive by improving services; introducing efficiencies, oversight and transparencies; and ensuring management and operations are aligned with international best practices. In anticipation of opening up investment and commercial opportunities in the airport services sector to local and foreign investors, GACA recently completed the ‘institutional transformation’ of 25 airports: the Airports Cluster 2 Company (which will manage and operate 22 airports) and Jeddah Airports. The privatization will be led by Matarat Holding, a wholly-owned subsidiary of GACA, set up to attract investments and partnerships to manage and deliver the transformation of Saudi airports.

All clear signals that the Kingdom’s stated aim of tripling its visitor numbers to 330m by 2030 is no passing fancy. It also intends to increase transit passenger traffic from 3m to 30m which will place it in serious competition with the region’s reigning transit passenger power couple – Qatar Airways and the UAE’s Emirates Airline which in 2019 carried 32m and 56m transit passengers respectively.

There’s much hullabaloo on the air cargo side too – capacity is to increase five-fold from 0.9 million tonnes (2019) to 4.5 million tonnes (2030).

Small wonder that GACA’s President Abdulaziz Al-Duailej called unprecedented the ‘scale of opportunity for the aviation world in Saudi Arabia’ as he announced Saudi Arabia’s first-ever Future Aviation Forum and invited ‘key players from the aviation world to … [attend and] … participate from the outset in Saudi Arabia’s rapid emergence as the Middle East’s preeminent aviation hub.”

A two-day event, hosted by GACA, the Forum “will unite global aviation leaders from the public and business sectors, international CEOs, and regulators to shape the evolution of international air travel and drive forward solutions in a post-pandemic world. The focus will be passenger experience, sustainability, and post-Covid business recovery.

“Global cooperation across the aviation sector is needed now more than ever. We must work together to build greater resilience to future health crises, to rethink and modernize every step of the passenger journey, and to ensure the sustainability of aviation in the face of the climate emergency. I look forward to the coming together of the industry’s top leaders in Riyadh at the Future Aviation Forum, where we can collaborate to drive the ambition, innovation and policymaking needed to ensure a promising future for the industry,” said ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano.

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