ATM 2024: Riyadh Air in talks with Airbus and Boeing over a new order of wide-body jets

Potential deal will be decided by next year, chief executive reveals

Tony Douglas, chief executive of Riyadh Air. Victor Besa / The National
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Saudi start-up airline Riyadh Air is in talks with Airbus and Boeing over a second wide-body aircraft order to grow its fleet as it prepares to start operations in the summer of 2025.

The potential order is expected to be finalised by next year, Riyadh Air chief executive Tony Douglas told The National on Monday on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

The airline has also completed a long-expected order for narrow-body jets, with the deal size and plane model to be announced within a “matter of months”, he said.

“We have a narrow-body position secured and we're already moving on to our next order after that,” Mr Douglas said.

“Order No 3 will be wide-bodies because of the scale of the network I need to operate.”

Riyadh Air placed its first aircraft order in March last year when it signed an agreement for 39 Boeing 787 wide-body planes, with the option for 33 more to handle long-haul flights.

It is building its fleet to connect the Saudi capital with more than 100 destinations by the end of the decade.

The airline's expansion plan is in line with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 to diversify its economy away from oil, as the kingdom seeks to develop its aviation sector and attract more international tourists.

A fleet of 200 jets

Riyadh Air plans to build a fleet of more than 200 aircraft in the first five years of its operations, Mr Douglas said.

The new airline, which is wholly owned by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, is now in discussions with Boeing and Airbus for another wide-body aircraft order.

“We've now moved on to order No 3 … it is a work in progress now,” Mr Douglas said.

“If we have to serve more than 100 cities in five years, the size of the fleet you need to do that is extensive, so it requires us to move at a fast pace.”

He declined to provide the number of aircraft required or the plane models being considered.

'No plan B'

Mr Douglas said that while the industry is aware that both Airbus and Boeing have supply chain challenges and risks of aircraft handover delays, Riyadh Air has no option but to get its jet deliveries on time for its debut next year.

“Because we are a start-up, it's not as if I've got a plan B. In other words, if you're late, I can't extend leases or change the network around because I don't have any leases and I don't have a network,” he said.

“So, from the get-go, what we've been making quite clear is, because we've got no Plan B, we need as much focus and special assurance as they can give to anyone.”

The airline is entering the discussions with “eyes wide open” as both companies face “massive” problems that are not expected to be resolved “any time soon”.

Both Airbus and Boeing are grappling with production amid high demand for aircraft amid supply issues.

Mr Douglas is confident that Riyadh Air will not face any problems with receiving its aircraft on time.

Updated: May 06, 2024, 12:16 PM