Saudi Arabia's start-up airline Riyadh Air is set to place an order for narrow-body aircraft in the next few weeks, its chief executive said.
The airline will not be making the single-aisle jets order at the Dubai Airshow, which started on Monday, Riyadh Air boss Tony Douglas told The National.
“We have concluded the campaign to select narrowbodies and within the coming weeks we will announce our winner and we're very excited about that, it's on track,” he said at Riyadh Air's pavilion at the air show in Dubai World Central.
Riyadh Air placed its first aircraft order in March when it signed an agreement for 39 Boeing 787 wide-body planes, with options for 33 more, to handle long-haul flights.
“By the end of this year, you will see Riyadh Air has made two very large orders within its first nine months and it will give an indication of the fleet size that will take us to connecting 110 cities by 2030,” Mr Douglas said.
Riyadh Air is building its fleet of aircraft to connect the Saudi capital with more than 100 destinations by the end of the decade after it starts operations in early 2025.
The new narrow-body order will be “sizeable”, Mr Douglas said, declining to reveal the number of aircraft.
“We need a lot of them and we need them quick,” he said.
Technical performance, commercial considerations and slot availability with the plane manufacturers are among the main factors under consideration when making the order, he said.
“When you see the number that we actually release, it will confirm the scale of ambition that Riyadh Air has,” Mr Douglas said.
The Riyadh Air brand is the “biggest airline start-up story” in commercial aviation in the region since Qatar Airways in terms of scale and “both manufacturers [Airbus and Boeing] will do anything in order for them to secure this because it is a long-term bet”, he said, when asked if the long backlog at Airbus for narrow-body aircraft was a deterrent in the airline's selection process.
“I'm not suggesting that people move around queues … All I'm making clear is conventional logic is not as applicable if you're taking a long-term view as an OEM [original equipment manufacturer] because we're not just adding a few extra orders to an existing fleet,” he said.
Receiving aircraft deliveries on time will be crucial for the start-up when it begins operations in the second quarter of 2025, he said.
“We've made it quite clear, it was part of our selection process, is that we don't have a Plan B because we are a start-up … so our number one priority is access to aircraft and everyone is taking that very seriously,” he said.
“Anybody who wants a long-term partnership with Riyadh Air has to take a long-term view. I've seen evidence that everyone, not just airframers, are trying to get aligned to this.”
Riyadh Air is planning to sign a new partnership with another airline during the Dubai Airshow, Mr Douglas said.
"Typically, you're talking about codeshares deep seated collaborations,” he said.
He said that Riyadh Air is open to operating a mixed fleet with aircraft models from both Airbus and Boeing.
“Logic states that we will end up operating both of them,” he said.
Route network plans
Riyadh Air plans to connect the Saudi capital with “all the major cities” and some of the secondary destinations in Europe, Mr Douglas said.
It also aims to serve the major cities in north-eastern America and Canada, most of the Far East Asian capital cities, Central Asian cities, the Indian subcontinent, the Gulf and Saudi cities by 2030.
In its first year of operations, it plans to serve 14 destinations.
“By definition, we will need three aircraft on day one to operate our first route,” Mr Douglas said.
The new narrow-body order will be announced “at a venue and at a point where we're very happy that it will have maximum impact for us because we are brand-building, this is the launch of a brand, so everything we do is deliberately designed to make sure that it does contribute maximum benefit to us in that way,” he added.