Riyadh Air will announce a deal to buy a “sizeable” number of narrowbody aircraft in the coming weeks, the startup airline’s chief executive said.

Former Etihad Airways boss Tony Douglas is helping build a second carrier for Saudi Arabia which is set for take-off in 2025.

He was hired in March to head up Riyadh Air, owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.


Riyadh Air looks to diversify fleet

With 72 Boeing 787 widebody jets already provisionally ordered, Douglas said narrowbodies were next.

“We have concluded our narrowbody campaign,” he said in an interview in London on Monday. “I think we will probably be announcing it within the coming weeks.”

There is speculation an announcement could come at the Dubai Air Show from November 13-17.

Douglas declined to say how many jets Riyadh Air would buy, but called the order “sizeable” and said the deal would be “a very, very clear signal of intent”.

“This is the biggest startup since Qatar Airways,” he said.

The creation of a second Saudi national airline alongside existing flag carrier Saudia is part of oil producer Saudi Arabia’s plan to diversify its economy, and Douglas said he was confident demand for travel would be there.

“We’re not well enough connected. It’s as simple as that,” he said, explaining the new airline would benefit from Saudi Arabia’s fast-growing economy plus a plan to attract more tourists to the kingdom.

Asked if the new airline would look for mergers and acquisitions to help it grow, he replied, “No, it’s organic”.

Riyadh Air’s first destinations will be the major cities of Europe and destinations on the east coast of the US and Canada, Douglas said.

First flight in 2025

The first flight is planned for the second quarter of 2025.

By then Riyadh Air will have secured slots at major airports, he said, despite the fact that hubs like London Heathrow are already operating close to capacity.

“It won’t be easy … but we have no reason to be anything other than confident that we’ll resolve all of that,” he said.