HomeSaudi ArabiaNew Saudi Arabian airline to allow alcohol and shorts on board

New Saudi Arabian airline to allow alcohol and shorts on board

A new multibillion-dollar airline funded by Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund will revolutionize the kingdom’s tourism industry and put it on par with Emirates and Qatar Airways.

Former Etihad Airways chief executive Tony Douglas left Abu Dhabi last October after being approached by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) to take over Riyadh-based new RIA.

Douglas did not publicly comment on reports that he was to lead the RIA project and said he was leaving Etihad Airways to “take advantage of the offer and opportunities elsewhere”. The airline quickly replaced Douglas Antonoaldo Neves, a former chief executive and board member of Portuguese carrier TAP.

However, there have been reports in the Saudi press that Douglas is no longer involved in the RIA project and that the wealth fund is preparing to spend $30 billion to get the airline up and running in record time.

During his time at Etihad, Douglas launched an effort to drastically cut costs and transform the airline’s strategy to return it to profitability. Despite the dramatic impact of the pandemic, Douglas’ plan proved remarkably effective, with the airline reporting an underlying operating profit of US$296 million in the first half of 2022.

RIA is a vital part of Saudi Arabia’s long-term modernization plans, allowing the Kingdom to revamp its economy and welcome millions of tourists in the coming years.

The airline will be based at a brand-new airport capable of handling around 185 million passengers a year. The existing national carrier, Saudia Airlines, will focus its activities outside of Jeddah, mainly with flights from Umrah.

The RIA model will build on the successful regional megaprojects of Emirates and Qatar Airways. Alcohol will be served on board and male passengers will be allowed to wear shorts. There will be no place to pray during the flight, instead, travelers will be offered familiar Western entertainment.

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