Saudi Arabia’s new Riyadh Air: first Boeing 787 arrives in 2025

Get ready for a new battle of the best first class and business class, with opulent lounges on the ground...

By David Flynn, March 16 2023
Saudi Arabia’s new Riyadh Air: first Boeing 787 arrives in 2025

Saudi Arabia’s all-new flag carrier Riyadh Air aims to join the globe-striding ranks of Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines, with the likelihood that premium travellers will be spoiled like never before.

The state-owned Riyadh Air will serve more than 100 destinations around the world by 2030, with the country’s relatively central location between Asia, Africa and Europe making it an ideal hub for passengers jetting to and from all corners of the world.

And they’ll be doing so in the latest aircraft from Airbus and Boeing, with a US$37 billion starting order for 39 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and options for 33 more, while the delayed Boeing 777-9 is also a possibility.

The first Riyadh Air Boeing 787s will arrive in early 2025, and the new national carrier will “move with real pace” to expand says industry veteran and former Etihad Airways boss Tony Douglas, since appointed as Riyadh Air’s chief executive officer.

“There will be more orders to follow and it will enable us to put connectivity into places that fulfill the ambition of the nation, but for the avoidance of doubt, this will be commercially sustainable.”

The fledgling carrier doesn’t plan on leasing aircraft before then as “we don’t want to start with a product that is not consistent” with the experience the carrier hopes to offer its customers, the CEO said.

“We don’t have a legacy so we don’t need to go about how we interact with our guests in a conventional way,” Douglas said, calling his new airline a startup.

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 100 million visitors by 2030.

The carrier will operate alongside fellow state-owned airlines Saudia and the soon-to-launch Neom Airlines, which is expected to take wing in late 2024 or early 2025 and will have a narrower focus on serving the country’s new mega city ‘Neom’ on the Red Sea.

Neom Airlines CEO Klaus Goersch confirms the trio would not be in competition with each other, as each focuses on a different market: Riyadh Air for global connections, Saudia for religious traffic, and Neom dedicated to the Red Sea development.

While the country has been 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.

Riyadh Air is expected to create more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs and add US$20 billion to Saudi’s non-oil growth.

And there’ll be plenty of oil money to bootstrap the carrier: over the weekend the Saudi Arabian Oil company – known better as Aramco – reported a record annual profit of US$161 billion for 2022.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 363

Assume they will be a dry airline? Good luck with that then..l


28 Sep 2022

Total posts 6

One of the reasons they are starting a new airline is precisely so as to break the shackles of having to confirm to that level of strict Islamic law. This new airline will serve alcohol just like all their competitors.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Dec 2013

Total posts 3

Fortunately it wont be a dry airline! That's one of the reasons they have to set up a new airline instead of revamping the existing airline.

With deeper pockets and more efficient equipment I wonder how Etihad (and for that matter Emirates) would fare.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 232

I fail to see how it could not be a dry Airline given the very strict laws that don't allow alcohol of any sort into Saudi. Given their strong anti alcohol views The leaders in Riyadh  would simply forbid it. I suppose it wouldn't matter very much though as most people who would fly with them would be Muslims who are not supposed to drink alcohol anyway.

As far a Tourist Destination goes  !!! You've got to be kidding . Not much there except sand. As some Western Pilots for Saudia used to say " Happiness is V2". If you don't understand that then ask a Pilot!

06 Sep 2018

Total posts 4

There's money involved. They will allow it. They've been watching what the UAE has been doing and the results 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Dec 2016

Total posts 71

So. Tony Douglas, the guy who sent Etihad into the ground is the guy who's championing it. Good luck with that.

At least the Saudi's have very deep pockets to fund his ambitions then.

Wrong, you're thinking of James Hogan. Tony Douglas is the one who came in to clean up the mess of Hogan's excess including its failed equity investments in a bunch of airlines including Alitalia, Jet Airways, Air Berlin, Air Serbia and of course Virgin Australia, as well as spending up big on the A380s. Over 2016-2018 Etihad lost close to USD5 billion. Tony Douglas came in to get Etihad back in shape and has done a pretty good job of that considering what he had to work with.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Mar 2020

Total posts 18

great, hopefully direct flight to Aus - save transiting through Dubai - flights to/from Riyadh on Emirates are always very full and expensive. Same with Dubai/Jeddah (pilgrimage tourists)...

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 148

I make no judgement on the blood-alcohol content of anyone here. But the tiresome way alcohol always gets brought up in relation to Saudia (and now Riyadh Air)'d think it was the only way to lure pax onto planes these days.

Or put another way, apparently the One and Only way for any airline to succeed is to ensure it always carries 1200 cases of white, 953 cases of red, 238 kegs of beer, 96 vats of vodka, 52 amphorae of retsina, 57,000 bottles of sake (because they're so small!), a modest 47 cases of arak, two dozen wineskins of toddy, and a bathtub (or two) of home-brewed moonshine liquor, on every flight over 20 mins in duration.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 232

sunnybrae  There are very few people in this forum who don't enjoy a drink or two of alcohol on long flights. It's one of the enjoyments of travel to sit back and relax with a nice drink and pass the time away.

Perhaps you don't do this but I and many others would class an alcoholic drink as desired on a flight.

One of the few pleasures of life that's still left.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jun 2017

Total posts 37

That’s depressing 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 253

Meh I'd prefer the lemon mint at boarding, Arabic coffee and date, Moroccan mint teas after dining to help digest. Water in between or you de-hydrate. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jan 2015

Total posts 31

There's absolutely no way on earth as a westerner I would transit or overnight in Riyadh. If anything were to go wrong you would be subject to their extremely strict laws - beware !

Also on a lighter note , how come they are getting their 787's from 2025 when Boeing can't even deliver the current very delayed 787 orders to all the other airlines around the world ?

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