By Daniel Shane
Doha-based carrier will fly to central Saudi city four times a week from January
Qatar Airways has announced it will start operating scheduled flights to the Saudi city of Gassim from January 7, 2013, part of the Doha-based carrier’s ambitions to gain a larger share of the kingdom’s air travel market.
Gassim will become Qatar Airways’ fifth destination in Saudi Arabia, where it already serves Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Medina. The Doha-based airline will operate four-flights-a-week to the central Saudi city of Gassim from January 7, 2013, using an Airbus A320 in a two-class configuration of 12 seats in First Class and 132 in Economy.
“Today Qatar Airways operates 60 flights a week across four destinations in Saudi Arabia, which will rise to 64 with the addition of Gassim as our newest route, representing the importance and commitment Qatar Airways has in the Saudi market,” said Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker.
“Saudi Arabia’s aviation industry has experienced unprecedented growth over the past few years, reporting the strongest increase in passenger traffic in more than a decade in 2011, with more than 54 million passengers travelling from the country last year,” he added.
As part of its expansion in the kingdom, Qatar Airways said in July it was interested in launching a subsidiary in Saudi Arabia’s domestic market.
The carrier said Al Baker had held talks with the new chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), Prince Fahad bin Abdullah Al Saud, to discuss the kingdom’s new aviation policy.
Last year, GACA announced that it would open up domestic flights in the country to foreign carriers, with licenses due to be issued from September this year. The market is currently a duopoly consisting of state-run Saudi Arabian Airlines and low-cost carrier nasair.
Since that decision was made, GACA has confirmed that 14 carriers – both foreign and domestic – had expressed an interest, although none of the names of those parties were released.
Qatar Airways has seen rapid growth in just 15 years of operations, currently operating a fleet of 111 aircraft to 118 key business and leisure destinations across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, North America and South America.
Since the beginning of 2012, Qatar Airways has launched flights to Baku (Azerbaijan); Tbilisi (Georgia); Kigali (Rwanda); Zagreb (Croatia), Erbil (Iraq), Baghdad (Iraq), Perth (Australia) and Kilimanjaro (Tanzania).