Riyadh Air: first flights to launch mid-2025

Get ready for a new battle for the world’s best business class...

By David Flynn, May 10 2024
Riyadh Air: first flights to launch mid-2025

Saudi Arabia’s all-new flag carrier Riyadh Air will take to the skies in the middle of 2025 with a fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners crowned by impressive business class suites, but without a first class cabin.

Riyadh Air CEO Tony Douglas confirmed the launch timeline this week during the Arabian Travel Market held in Dubai, where he described Riyadh Air as  “probably the biggest startup this region’s seen in the last 40 years.”

The former Etihad boss is steadily ticking items off a long to-do list – “we’re sailing up at an incredible pace,” he told Bloomberg.

“Last year we were teasing everybody with what we’re going to be doing, so we’re going to reveal a lot more in the coming months.”

This will include a launch of crew uniforms to be held in Paris in the middle of this year, which Douglas said would channel the glory days of the jet-set age “with a modern twist.”

“Think the TWA days – style, elegance, grace,” he enthused.

The second of Riyadh Air's twin liveries.
The second of Riyadh Air's twin liveries.

And while the uniforms will draw inspiration from the past, Douglas is also keen to showcase Riyadh Air as a decidedly tech-forward player.

“All of the digital promises we’ve been making, we’re going to reveal them,” he hinted, adding “the technology that we use in lots of other ways in our normal lives will come to the world of commercial aviation,” including what’s been described as “next generation digital in-flight entertainment systems and connectivity solutions.”

This will inevitably lead up to the launch of Riyadh Air’s business class, premium economy and economy seating.

However, Douglas has ruled out the seemingly-obvious lure of opulent first class suites in the same way that he did at Etihad, where he championed modern, well-appointed and doored business class suites.

The first 787 flights will take off in mid-2025 from Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport, while state-owned sibling Saudia will shift to its primary hub at Jeddah.

With a $50bn war chest bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, Riyadh Air initially fly to a handful of major destinations but rapidly ramp  up, with a strong focus on Asia, notes Riyadh Air chief commercial officer Vincent Cost.

“We will be adding an average of two destinations every month over five years,” Coste told media at the Arabian Travel Market.

Riyadh Air has already placed an initial order for up to 72 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, with 39 jets confirmed and options for 33 more.

Douglas indicated a follow-up order was on the cards “to build us up to scale,” along with a deal for single-aisle jets to popular Riyadh Air’s short-range fleet.

“We’re talking about connecting to well over 100 destinations, “Douglas told Bloomberg, “so we need that big fleet.”

The first Riyadh Air Boeing 787 has already debuted a striking purple-hued look that will grace airports around the world for flights carrying Riyadh Air’s RX code.

Riyadh Air's new Boeing 787.
Riyadh Air's new Boeing 787.

Lavender, which is native to Saudi Arabia and spreads across the desert dunes in an explosion of colour each spring, is used by the nation’s government for ceremonial and official purposes.

The 787’s tail and engine are emblazoned with the logo of a a stylised R which forms an airplane window, symbolising the airline’s goal to be “Saudi Arabia’s window to the world.”

A second design for what the airline describes as a “permanent dual-livery” adopts a lighter iridescent white for the majority of the plane, while keeping the signature lavender and indigo elements of the tail and engines, with a feather-like transition near the rear of the fuselage.

Riyadh Air is an ambitious play to open up Saudi Arabia and help kickstart its tourism industry to become one of the world’s most popular destinations, with more than 150 million visitors by 2030.

While the country was largely closed off to foreign visitors until 2019, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is investing in resorts and airports as part of a plan to wean the economy off a reliance on oil sales while also transforming it into regional centre of business, tourism, trade and logistics.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 566

And let’s start with the usual question that gets asked with new airlines from certain countries:

Is it dry?

The other contenders for new service 

Any interline connections and baggage transfers?

Codeshares?

Lounge access in destinations (don’t expect they have lounges except their base, but their selection of partners or independent lounge providers to service the premium pax will be interesting)

Transit time and day tours to Riyadh (like SIN)? since part of the reason was to make Saudi Arabia a tourist destination 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jan 2017

Total posts 23

With a $50bn war chest, Tony Douglas at the helm and MBS behind it, this carrier is here to impress.

Don't under estimate it! 

16 Dec 2016

Total posts 55

Fair questions.  No one is answering the question about alcohol.  Riyadh is a dry city in a dry country so unless they are willing to completely throw out their core religious values, there is going to be a substantial element missing from the in-flight and Lounge product offering.  Sure, not everyone drinks but how many people in Business Class are going to be keen to completely give up alcohol? 

Also there is a lot of work to do on the Diplomatic front considering women's rights and the rights of LGTBI people are disregarded in this country.  Qatar is one thing but if a woman or minority gets in trouble in Saudi there are no second chances.  I for one will be waiting for a few years before I dare consider Riyadh a safe place to transit, let alone travel.


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