Global aviation leaders will attend a key meeting in Riyadh next month in a “pivotal moment” for the future of air travel, the head of Saudi Arabia’s transport ministry says.
The country will host the inaugural Future Aviation Forum on May 9, when it hopes the industry can resolve post-pandemic issues and shape future international air travel.
Saudi Arabia is seeking to play a key role in addressing the travel industry problems by bringing together international chief executives such as Willie Walsh, the former British Airways boss.
Minister of Transport Saleh bin Nasser Al Jasser told The National the forum “will be a pivotal moment for the global aviation sector”.
“We will bring together the brightest minds from around the world to forge solutions for how the sector can recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, transform the passenger experience and invest in innovations that will lower carbon emissions and reduce environmental impact,” he said.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps welcomed the forum as a key moment for airlines to begin recovering. “This is a pivotal time for the aviation industry as it faces the climate crisis and recovers from the disruption caused by the pandemic," he told The National. “This vital forum brings together industry leaders to explore these problems and find new solutions that can be implemented globally.”
A new poll seen by The National indicates that nearly half (47 per cent) of Gulf travellers state that confusion over Covid-19 health requirements will stop them flying in 2022.
This follows a difficult year for the air industry, with a YouGov survey showing that two thirds of people (68 per cent) chose not to travel in 2021 due to Covid-19-related requirements such as tests and face masks.
It is now critical for the aviation industry to debate how to tackle future pandemics and climate change, said Salvatore Sciacchitano, president of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation.
“Global co-operation across the aviation sector is needed now more than ever,” he said. “We must work together to build greater resilience to future health crises, to rethink and modernise every step of the passenger journey and ensure the sustainability of aviation in the face of the climate emergency.”
Hosted by the General Authority of Civil Aviation, the forum will examine business recovery of the industry post-pandemic, passenger experience and sustainability.
Saudi Arabia itself aims to generate 356 billion riyals ($95bn) in investment into its aviation sector by 2030 making it a global aviation hub.
Its National Aviation Sector Strategy aims to increase connections from Saudi Arabia to 250 destinations, reaching 330 million passengers.
The kingdom also plans to launch a new national airline to complement its existing national carriers, including Saudia, and to build a major new international airport in Riyadh, in addition to eight new regional airports.
The forum is a two-day event from May 9 with more than 120 speakers and 2,000 representatives from every continent.
Aviation leaders speaking at the forum include Mr Walsh, the International Air Transport Association chief, Gulf Air’s acting boss Captain Waleed Hameed and József Váradi the chief executive of Wizz Air.
Zara Rutherford, the Belgian aviator who aged 19 became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world this year, will also give an address.