Info Qatar Airways Ditches Plans For New Saudi Airline

Qatar Airways has dropped plans to launch a domestic airline in Saudi Arabia, in the latest upset for the Saudi aviation market.

According to an interview with Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker in the latest issue of Arabian Aerospace magazine, the plans for the airline have been quietly dropped. The interview quotes Al Baker as saying  “Yes I’m disappointed we were not able to launch that airline. We hope we will have another opportunity.”

In some ways, the development is simply a confirmation of what was already apparent. Qatar Airways gained initial approval from the Saudi aviation regulator, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), to launch Al Maha Airways in 2013. At the same time, GACA gave approval to another new airline called SaudiGulf Airlines, backed by the local Al Qahtani Group. However, while SaudiGulf launched its services in October 2016, there have been persistent delays to Al Maha receiving final approval and launch dates have come and gone without any activity.

Al Maha was to be based in Jeddah and has had a large recruitment drive over recent years. Airbus has also delivered a number of planes to Qatar Airways in Al Maha colours which have been used by the parent airline on some regional routes.

Even as Al Maha struggled to get off the ground, the country’s national carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) announced in Aprilthat it was setting up a new budget carrier called Flyadeal, also to be based in Jeddah. As yet it has not launched any services, but is due to receive its first leased planes from Airbus later this year.

Flyadeal is the fifth new airline to be announced in Saudi Arabia in less than a decade, but the success rate among them has not been encouraging. Budget carrier FlyNAS has done well since it started flying in 2007. In mid-January it signed an agreement for 60 A320neo planes from Airbus. However, another airline launched in 2007, Sama Airlines, was shuttered in 2010 with huge debts.

Qatar Airways has been performing more strongly than its regional rivals, Etihad and Emirates, over the past year, with strong passenger growth through its hub in Doha.