Saudi Arabia's state-owned budget carrier Flyadeal will choose in October between narrow-body models made by Airbus and Boeing for its 50-jet fleet plan. The airline is also planning to recruit Saudi female cabin crew for the first time.
Flyadeal, a unit of Saudi Arabian Airlines, will select either A320 Neos or 737 Maxs by October, said Con Korfiatis, chief executive of the carrier. A choice of either plane models would have a projected value of $5 billion at average listed prices before discount.
“There is solid competition between both manufacturers, the next few weeks will be very interesting,” Mr Korfiatis said.
The airline currently operates a fleet of eight leased A320s and expects to receive delivery of another three by the end of this year. Flyadeal launched domestic flights in September 2017 and plans to serve regional destinations within a three-hour radius of its Jeddah hub by the end of 2018. The airline competes with another Saudi budget carrier Flynas that has been operating since 2007 and has a fleet of 30 aircraft flying to 17 Saudi and 53 international destinations.
The order of 50 narrow-body aircraft would cover the airline's fleet requirements for the next five years, for both domestic and regional routes, Flyadeal said in April. If the airline faces a long delivery backlog with its chosen manufacturer, it may lease aircraft of the same type to bridge the gap between order and delivery time.
Flyadeal has also joined Flynas in accepting applications to recruit Saudi female flight attendants as the kingdom eases restrictions on women entering the workforce to reduce unemployment among citizens and boost economic growth.
“We have been overwhelmed by the number of applications so far,” Mr Korfiatis said. “We don’t have a quota per say, we’ve got a few more aircraft coming in later this year and we’ll need more crew.”
Saudi women already comprise 30 per cent of Flyadeal's non-crew staff ranging from customer-care to human resources jobs, he said.
The kingdom, which is undertaking wide-ranging economic reform measures, is aiming to increase the participation of women in the labour force to 30 per cent, from 22 per cent currently, by 2030.
In June, Saudi Arabia overturned a driving ban on women, improving their mobility and easing access to the workforce as it vies to reduce unemployment that has reached 12.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2018 among Saudis, according to the General Authority for Statistics in Riyadh. It is training women to work as air-traffic controllers for the first time to certify them for jobs in Riyadh and Jeddah.
On its website, Flyadeal's job advert for Saudi female cabin crew required applicants aged 23 to 30 years old, diploma-holders, fluent in written and spoken English, in excellent health and fitness.
“With everything that’s going on in the kingdom, now the time is right,” Mr Korfiatis said.
Last week, rival Flynas said it plans to hire 300 Saudi female and male flight attendants within two years and will recruit 200 Saudi male and female co-pilots over the next five years. It began accepting applications for both roles on September 13.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is spearheading efforts to modernise the kingdom, transform the oil-reliant economy and create more jobs for Saudis.
As part of its economic diversification drive, Saudi Arabia is privatising its transport industry, eventually transferring ownership of all its airports to the Public Investment Fund.
The government wants state-owned assets to function efficiently and generate returns as private companies, effectively removing the operational and financial burden on the state.