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Tue 24 Apr 2018 09:17 AM

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'Sleeping giant' Saudia to begin hub operations in March 2019, says CEO

New King AbdulAziz International Airport terminal will be a 'gamechanger' for Saudi Arabia, said Saudia CEO Jaan Albrecht

'Sleeping giant' Saudia to begin hub operations in March 2019, says CEO

Test flights at the new King AbdulAziz International Airport terminal in Jeddah are to begin next month, and will be fully operational at the end of the year, the CEO of Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) said, paving the way for the carrier to return to its "glory days".

“You see a big marketing push already where we are being called the ‘sleeping giant’, and by March 2019 that will become a reality as we begin our hub operations at the airport,” Saudia’s CEO Jaan Albrecht said yesterday.

Albrecht was speaking exclusively with Arabian Business on the second day of the Arabian Travel Market exhibition in Dubai.

Parts of the new terminal are already complete, especially the area that will be used exclusively by Saudia, Albrect said.

“Once it is all done, the new terminal will be a gamechanger, huge for Saudi Arabia and huge for Saudia,” he said.

New runway

Saudia’s operations at King AbdulAziz Airport in Jeddah have been hampered by a runway that can only handle eight flights per hour.

Once its expansion and a new runway are complete, it will be able to operate close to 40 flights per hour.

“It’s the issue so far, a lacking infrastructure at Jeddah, which has prevented traffic from connecting through Saudi Arabia,” said Albrecht.

Sixth freedom traffic

The new hub is crucial for Saudia to tap into a lucrative market for sixth freedom traffic, which allows passengers in one country to fly to connect in a second country by stopping over in the carrier’s own country.

“Sixth freedom flights are a big opportunity. With this we will be able to fill any empty seats with connecting traffic as well as religious tourists and the growing number of non-religious tourists,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is also bringing a lot of optimism to the country and its national carrier’s future, said Albrech.

“We are working hand in hand with the government to be the solution to these opportunities in tourism, business traffic, transiting passengers. All this is related to air travel and we are the entity to support the government in implementing Vision 2030.

“We want to play in the big leagues. I’ve been seeing the airline from the outside, and it has a great history. Now I want to return it to its glory days,” he added.

Flyadeal to expand internationally

Saudia has been investing in revamping its premium and economy class products, including hiring staff and digitising operations, as well as integrating schedules with new low cost subsidiary Flyadeal.

“They (Flyadeal) are doing a great job and have six aircraft right now. Once they get more they will expand internationally and domestically which will be a win-win for both of us,” said Albrecht.

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