- IATA/ICAO Code:
- Airline Type:
- Full Service Carrier
- Dammam Airport, Jeddah Airport, Riyadh Airport
- Year Founded:
- Ibrahim Alkoshy
- Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia seems to be flying on momentum when creating new airlines, as the Kingdom’s planned megacity of Neom has received the government’s approval to launch its own carrier. The new airline serving Neom, yet to be named or thoroughly planned out, would officially be the third Saudi Arabian carrier established after the flag carrier Saudia and the soon-to-be-launched secondary flag carrier RIA.
A third flag carrier?
Like RIA, the new Neom airline is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF). However, unlike RIA, which will operate a dual-hub strategy with Saudia, the new Neom airline is currently planned to operate solely out of the mega-city and connect it with international tourists with direct flights to cities in Asia and Europe. The idea of the new airline being a stand-alone national carrier aligns with the Kingdom’s eagerness to brand Neom as a stand-alone destination with its dedicated airline.
Having been dubbed and thrown in unofficial name guesses such as NEOM or NEOM AIR on social media, the new Neom airline already has its airport within the mega-city, Neom Bay Airport. Having only opened a few years ago, Neom Bay currently handles limited domestic flights by Saudia and a singular international route. The international flights operated by the new airline are once weekly services to Dubai International Airport, using a Saudia aircraft with a unique Neom livery under a strategic joint venture.
When will it launch?
With only one international destination on its network, no resources except for a dedicated airport, and no official name, it remains uncertain when the new Neom airline is scheduled to take off, especially since RIA is still yet to be launched. It’s also unlikely to be anytime in the next few years that the new airline will take off, given how the construction of Neom is still greatly unfinished.
Neom city officials with knowledge have not given any specific timeline for the third Saudi Arabian carrier, saying:
“Given the sheer scale of this project and that it is expected to become one of the tourist capitals in the world, having an airline dedicated to the city, specifically flying to Neom Bay, is very logical. The issue, at present, is how the step will be implemented in line with the current vision for the presence of carriers Saudia and RIA.”
Even without a fleet and a name, the new Saudi Arabian airline might soon expand beyond just flying to Dubai, as Saudia previously hinted that London could be next. The joint venture with Saudia allows the new airline to conduct regular international flights from Neom Bay Airport and has also been described as helping the new airline roll out further commercial services. This means that future air cargo services from the new airline are likely, albeit possibly still, operated by Saudia’s fleet.
It will require massive investments to build the new airline. Photo: Getty Images
It’s no secret of the Kingdom’s long-term plan to grow its aviation industry and strengthen its national carriers to rival Emirates and Qatar Airways on significant routes. However, it is quite interesting to see if such efforts would cause a shift in aviation in the Middle East. While building a mega-city and launching a secondary national carrier for a dual-hub network seems strategic enough, establishing a third carrier so soon could backfire on the Kingdom.
Even if the new Neom airline takes off years after RIA, it would still take time for passengers to remain attracted and loyal to Saudia and RIA, and then even more time to be attracted and loyal to the new carrier. And since the new airline will be a stand-alone for the mega-city, its lone business model could be more challenging to pull off.