Interview: Saleh bin Nasser Al Jasser

Which international markets is Saudi Arabia hoping to enter for aviation services expansion?

SALEH BIN NASSER AL JASSER: We currently serve a diverse range of markets, flying to four continents and 89 destinations overall. During the last 18 months we expanded our network, adding the Maldives, Ankara, Algiers, Munich, Multan, Port Sudan, Mauritius, Baghdad and Thiruvananthapuram.

The newest routes are those to Mauritius, Baghdad and Thiruvananthapuram, Saudia Group’s eighth route in India. A particular segment of travel covers religious tourism, one of the major pillars under Vision 2030. The development plan calls for the number of annual Umrah pilgrims to grow to 20m by 2020 and 30m by 2030. This is a target we are all committed to working towards.

In line with Vision 2030 and the Kingdom’s preparations to welcome additional visitors for the purposes of religious and cultural tourism, Saudia Group has focused on markets where increased traffic is expected, particularly in the East.

What fleet expansion strategies are currently being adopted to accommodate domestic and international passenger growth?

AL JASSER: We are pleased to see that passenger numbers are growing each year, and we foresee continued growth in both international and domestic traffic. In 2016 Saudia Group carried 30m passengers, whereas in August 2017 alone we carried 3.04m passengers, which was a record high number for a single month. Each year new routes are being added to the network, and the fleet continues to grow to accommodate ever-increasing domestic and international demand.

Our fleet consists of Airbus narrow- and wide-body aircraft, as well as the Boeing 777-300ER and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Furthermore, new aircraft are joining the fleet on a monthly basis.

By the end of 2017 we expect 32 new narrow- and wide-body planes to be added. We are set to have 200 aircraft in our fleet by 2020.

These additional aircraft will enable us to expand capacity on new and existing routes, and will therefore put us on course to achieve the targets laid out in our five-year SV2020 Transformation Plan. In further pursuit of these objectives, we are also investing in customer experience.

How are current national economic trends and initiatives influencing the development of the cargo business across the Kingdom?

AL JASSER: Infrastructure and development projects are under way across a multitude of industries as part of the Kingdom’s shift away from hydrocarbons dependence. In line with these developments we are seeing an increase in cargo traffic in the transportation of material goods, construction supplies, perishables and pharmaceuticals.

The Kingdom is currently in the early stages of establishing these new industries, and we can foresee their continued growth further contributing to cargo demand in coming years.

What impact are low-cost carriers such as flyadeal projected to have on the domestic market?

AL JASSER: The newly launched flyadeal is a standalone entity and is a low-fare carrier that targets the growing market of travellers who wish to find a low-cost solution to meet their travel needs, without paying for additional unwanted services. Low-cost carriers in general provide greater choice for local travel within the domestic market.

Ultimately, lower fares will enable more people to travel, encouraging trade and tourism. The initial fleet for flyadeal is composed of eight Airbus A320s, with plans to have up to 50 aircraft in the fleet within five years of the commencement of operations.