Riyadh Air takes flight over Saudi Arabia’s capital

The bold purple Boeing 787 marks the debut flight for the kingdom’s second national carrier

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Nascent Riyadh Air made its airborne debut on Monday with a low-level flight over the Saudi capital.

Flying over Riyadh around 1pm local time, the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner navigated a low-altitude cruise over the city.

It’s the first time that the start-up airline, which is set to launch in 2025, has officially taken flight.

Showcasing the airline’s distinctive purple livery, the Dreamliner flew over the city taking in landmarks including King Abdullah Financial District, King Khalid Grand Mosque, Kingdom Centre – one of the country’s tallest buildings – and the sky-scraping Al Faisaliah Tower.

Registered N8572C, the aircraft was accompanied by a jet from Saudi Hawks, the Royal Saudi Air Force Display team, in what marks a historic moment for Saudi Arabia's aviation scene as the country's second national carrier takes to the air.

The flight is the first time that plane spotters have been able to see Riyadh Air's new livery in the sky.

Revealed last week, the lavender and indigo design features a “canopy twist” pattern on the rear fuselage, the country flag and the Riyadh Air lettering in white in both English and Arabic. The jet also features the airline's new logo – inspired by an aircraft window – on the tail and engines.

It's the first of two livery designs for the airline.

All Riyadh Air flights will operate with the code RX, as approved last week by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

What is Riyadh Air and where will it fly to?

Riyadh Air is the newest airline in the Middle East and the second national carrier in Saudi Arabia after Saudia.

Fully owned by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, the airline is part of the vision of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Tony Douglas, former chief executive of Abu Dhabi's national airline Etihad Airways, is at the helm of the new carrier.

In March, Riyadh Air unveiled an order for 39 Boeing aircraft, with the option to acquire an additional 33 of the wide-body jets – one of the biggest orders in aviation history.

The airline isn't finished shopping for the year and is considering the purchase of Boeing 737 Max and Airbus A320 Neo jets, but a decision has yet to be made, Douglas told The National on the sidelines of IATA's annual meeting last week.

It’s not yet known exactly which destinations Riyadh Air will fly to, but there are plans for the airline to operate to a network of more than 100 destinations by 2030, serving destinations in the Middle East, Asia, US, Africa and Europe.

With a focus on technology, the airline previously said it would equip its Dreamliners with state-of-the-art features, innovative cabin interiors, next-generation digital in-flight entertainment systems and connectivity solutions.

In a move away from the kingdom's other flag carrier, Riyadh Air jet will have economy class, premium economy class and business class cabins, but no first class seats.

The airline will be based at King Salman International Airport, a new air hub currently being built in the Saudi Arabian capital.

Designed to be one of the world's busiest airports, the new facility will have six runways and capacity to accommodate up to 120 million passengers. Dubai International Airport – the current largest airport in the world in terms of passenger numbers – has capacity to handle up to 90 million passengers annually.

Riyadh Air is expected to unveil more details and showcase its newest Boeing 787 at the Paris Air Show, which kicks off in France on June 19.

Updated: June 13, 2023, 4:21 AM