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Saudia is leading regional air travel this summer, eyes return to profitability in 2024

Saudia has made a big return to the skies on May 17th and looks to dominate the skies this summer with a combination of local and international flights

Saudia and Etihad already had a codeshare agreement in place, which has now been expanded Saudia has overtaken Emirates and Qatar Airways as the largest airline in the region this summer The gulf flag carrier entered the pandemic with a strong balance sheet

Saudia has made a big return to the skies on May 17th and looks to dominate the skies this summer with a combination of local and international flights.

Passengers traveling on the Etihad-Saudia codeshare corridor will also earn more points and status.

More importantly, Saudia expects profitability to return in 2024.    

Codeshare plus

Etihad and Saudia have announced a new reciprocal loyalty agreement. This will allow frequent flyers in both schemes to earn and redeem miles on both networks, including tier points needed to achieve status.  

Saudia and Etihad Airways already had a codeshare agreement in place, which has now been expanded.  

In addition to codeshares, frequent flyers on both carriers (Etihad Guest and ALFURSAN) can now earn and redeem miles on each other’s flights. This will offer more flexibility for travelers in terms of scheduling, open new routes, and provide the chance to try out new products.

Travelers will also have the chance to gain tier points and tier segments.  

110,000 passengers have already taken advantage of the codeshare agreement. Currently, Saudia flight numbers are on 15 Etihad flights to the US, Europe, and Asia, while Etihad adds its number to domestic and Saudia’s Pakistan flights.

The announcement comes just a few days after Saudi Arabia reopened its border to most of the world. Barring 20 countries, travelers from everywhere else will be able to enter the Kingdom without quarantine if they are vaccinated. Notably, Saudi citizens have also been allowed to leave the country for the first time since March, provided they are fully vaccinated. 

The European Union recently cleared the way for non-EU travelers to return once again, a major boost for global tourism.  

Saudia said it has completed all its preparations to operate international flights at its full capacity, in a statement on Sunday carried by the Saudi Press Agency. 

Saudia revealed its readiness to operate its flights to 71 destinations operating from 95 airports, including 28 domestic and 43 international destinations. 

International flights up and running

The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said that Saudi Arabia’s airports will operate nearly 385 international flights starting May 17.

The national air carrier also said in the statement that there will be no empty seats among the guests onboard international flights as part of coronavirus measures, pointing out that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) did not approve the idea as it would not contribute to increasing safety, but would cause an increase in ticket prices.

Read: Emirates’ Tim Clark says he expects the airline to return to profitability in 2022

Read: IATA’s vision for travel, aviation industry’s performance, and revenue projections for 2021

The largest airline this summer

Saudia has overtaken Emirates and Qatar Airways as the largest airline in the region, mainly thanks to its big domestic network that is still robust despite the coronavirus, according to Simplyflying

Saudia now has 158 aircraft, of which 103 are widebodies and 55 are narrowbodies.

The ranking is based on analyzing planned seat capacity for every airline in the region based on schedules supplied by the carriers to OAG. The top-10 seated airlines are shown below.

  • Saudia: 20.36 million round-trip seats this summer
  • Emirates: 19.88 million
  • Qatar Airways: 18.69 million
  • Etihad Airways: 7.26 million
  • Flydubai 6.41 million
  • Flynas: 4.56 million
  • Turkish Airlines: 4.07 million
  • Air Arabia: 3.98 million
  • Oman Air: 3.21 million
  • Mahan Air: 3.14 million

Saudia has risen from third place in the summer of 2019 and was helped by Emirates cutting down flights by 52% while it’s 33% for Qatar Airways. In contrast, Saudia has reduced by only 26%.

The carrier’s expansive domestic operation means it is also the Middle East’s top airline by total flights, although it slips to third if available seat miles are considered.  

Saudia plans to serve 34 countries on a passenger basis this summer, down from 41 in S19. Domestic service now accounts for over six in ten seats. Its top-10 countries are as follows.

  • Saudi Arabia: 12.51 million seats
  • Egypt: 1.36 million
  • United Arab Emirates: 1.10 million
  • Pakistan: 960,000
  • India: 744,000
  • Bangladesh: 527,000
  • Sudan: 387,000
  • Indonesia: 346,000
  • Turkey: 328,000
  • UK: 215,000

Top international routes this summer

Jeddah to Cairo is Saudia’s leading route, the same as in S19, although cuts have reduced it by almost half. In August, it’ll have 35 weekly departures on the 755-mile sector, all by A330-300s.

  • Jeddah-Cairo: 628,000 seats
  • Riyadh-Dubai: 559,000
  • Riyadh-Cairo: 411,000
  • Jeddah-Dubai: 377,000
  • Jeddah-Jakarta: 346,000
  • Jeddah-Dhaka: 342,000
  • Jeddah-Khartoum: 256,000
  • Jeddah-Lahore: 217,000
  • Jeddah-Istanbul: 205,000
  • Jeddah-Islamabad: 200,000

Profitability returns

Saudia eyes a full international passenger traffic recovery and a return to profitability by 2024, says CEO Ibrahim AlKoshy. 

This is despite gulf carriers recording a collective loss of $9.6 billion in February 2021 due to a 70% drop in traffic, as reported by IATA.

According to a survey conducted in December 2019, about 46% of Saudi participants are keen on international travel once travel restrictions are lifted.  

The gulf flag carrier entered the pandemic with a strong balance sheet following a $3.6 bn approval from the Kingdom’s Finance Ministry in 2019 and an additional $1.7 bn approved in the first half of 2020. Additionally, the carrier signed an agreement in April 2021, valued at $1.7 bn, which will be put towards financing new aircraft up until mid-2024.