National Rebranding - Saudi Arabia’s Ambitious Aviation Expansions

Airports & Airlines
Ahmed El Dahan
min read
July 2, 2021

The Saudi Kingdom has recently unveiled plans for significant developments to its aviation infrastructure, constructing two new airports, one in the capital city of Riyadh, another on the coast, along with the inception of a new flag carrier.

The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman announced the ambitious proposals as part of the Vision 2030 scheme set to revamp the Saudi economy as it shifts from its current oil-dominated economy to owning a solid tourism sector with 100 million tourists a year by 2030, six times the figures of 2019, when the country first opened its borders to foreign visitors. The Crown Prince hopes to give KSA a 12 billion dollar tourism sector. A massive transformation for a country that was somewhat of a hermit nation, difficult to enter, void of public entertainment and considered the revenue stream from annual pilgrims as an alternative to tourism.

“The comprehensive strategy aims to position Saudi Arabia as a global logistics hub connecting the three continents. This will help other sectors like tourism, Hajj and Umrah to achieve their national targets.”

explains Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Furthermore, the country is laying foundations to become an emerging logistic hub of the Middle East - investing heavily in its transport infrastructure with the goal to foster a logistic-transport sector worth 10% of the country’s economy by 2030.

A New Riyadh Airport

The Saudi capital Riyadh will receive a modern international airport that will act as the operational base of the country’s new flag carrier. Furthermore, Saudi officials hope to equip the new airport with extensive cargo facilities that will double KSA cargo capacity.

In true Gulf fashion, the Kingdom has expressed its willingness to invest billions on the project; with funding from the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund along with the Public Investment Fund (PIF) estimated at approximately 430 billion dollars.

Whilst still in its primary stages, the airport is intended to replace the existing King Khalid International that has been serving the capital since its inception in 1983. With its five terminals, double runways and 40 airbridges, the airport has accommodated an average of 28.5 million passengers a year pre-pandemic.

Whilst no official concept designs for the new airport have been revealed, the Saudi government plans to top the already lavish facilities of KKIA, revealing the ambitiousness of the project.

Red Sea International Airport

A  rendered view of the Red Sea International Airport

In March 2021 Saudi authorities announced the construction of a new international airport on the West coast as part of the Kingdom’s Red Sea Project. Lead by Foster + Partners, the facility is set to cater for one million annual visitors to the resort-town by 2030.

Design renders have shown the airport’s elegant aesthetic featuring five pod-shaped terminals encompassing the airport’s drop-off and pick-up points featuring a color scheme inspired by the vast Arabian desert. Meanwhile, the airport’s intimate interiors are to be planted with greenery to contrast with the country’s natural landscape and foster a calming ambience for travelers.

Each pod will be built with the option to function independently as ‘stand-alone terminals’ giving airport authorities flexibility in the airports' energy expenditure depending on seasonal traffic demands. In addition, with plans to be powered by 100% renewable energy, the airport will be one of Saudi Arabia’s leading ecological constructions.  

“The Red Sea Airport has been envisaged as a gateway to one of the most unique resorts in the world and an integral part of the visitor experience. Inspired by the colors and textures of the desert landscape, the sustainable design seeks to create a calm and luxurious journey through the terminal. It will become a transit hub for visitors coming in by both land and air. We look forward to working with the Red Sea Development Company to fulfill the vision for this ambitious one-of-a-kind project.”

explains Gerard Evenden - Head of Studio - Foster + Partners.

Complementing the pods, two auxiliary wing structures will house Red Sea Airport’s hangers, logistic and baggage handling services.

New National Airline

Supplementing Saudi Arabia’s shift to a tourism-based economy, a new airline has been envisioned to with the purpose of transporting tourists and business travelers to and from the Kingdom.

Several factors are pushing the Saudis to establish a new airline; firstly the current flag carrier - Saudi Arabian Airlines is limited in its operational capacity relative to the size and potential of KSA. In addition, the company has been struggling with financial losses for several years and the recent pandemic situation further hindered its performance.

Without divulging too many details on the new airline’s conception, official state sources claimed that the launch of a new flag carrier would position Saudi Arabia 5th in terms of global air transit traffic whilst touching down in over 250 destinations and doubling cargo capacities to over 4.5 million tonnes.

Meanwhile, the government intends to maintain Saudi Arabian Airlines, with its base at King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah giving it the role of handling the Kingdom’s ‘religious tourism’ catering to the millions of pilgrims the country welcomes annually.

New Beginnings

Whilst in the past, Saudi Arabia was reclusive in nature; with its tight borders and an economic model dominated by oil and religious traffic, its untapped potential currently being explored by the country’s new policies are set to revamp the Middle East.

With the financial capacity and regional influence to rapidly foster a fresh touristic landscape, Saudi Arabia will bring intense competition to its tourist-centric neighbors, notably Egypt and the UAE. Furthermore in nurturing its less than ideal aviation sector, KSA could pull traffic away from the current Asian and African aviation portals in the UAE and Egypt. It stands today that in less than a decade, Saudi Arabia may well be a more influential superpower in the region with its growing touristic appeal and elaborate transport network.

Ahmed El Dahan
Aviation Journalist
A seasoned writer, Ahmed El Dahan was trained in Journalism and Mass Communication in the American University in Cairo. He then moved on to refine his writing skills working in various publications covering such topics as tourism, art exhibitions, music along with being a food critic. Relocating to Paris in 2015, he has an ever growing curiosity for the aviation industry. Away from the page, Dahan is an active professional saxophonist.

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