By Courtney Trenwith
Qatar Airways, Gulf Air given date to start ops after winning licence from aviation regulator
Gulf Air and Qatar Airways will begin operating domestic flights in Saudi Arabia by the end of the year, the head of the kingdom’s aviation authority said.
The state-owned airlines were granted licences to operate within the kingdom in December, to help address surging demand for air travel as the oil-rich nation’s population becomes wealthier and more able to afford the faster transport option.
However, no details have been revealed about which airports or routes the airlines will operate, or when tickets will go on sale.
Saudi Arabia, the biggest Arab economy with a population of more than 27m, still has one of the smallest airline networks in the region relative to its size.
More than 54m passengers passed through Saudi Arabia's 27 airports last year, according to data from the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), rising 13.6 percent from 2010.
Currently only two airlines - the national carrier Saudi Airlines and budget airline National Air Services (NAS) - service a domestic market of about 27m people.
With a price cap on domestic flights, private airlines have struggled with their profit margins. In 2010, a third carrier, Sama Airlines, was declared bankrupt.
Saudi Airlines, which is undergoing a slow privatisation process, receives fuel at subsidised prices unlike private carriers, allowing it to offset the cost of tickets.