Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia)—which began operations from Jeddah’s new King Abdulaziz International Airport May 29—is set for growth opportunity at the new terminal, Saudia CEO Jaan Albrecht told ATW on the sidelines of this week’s IATA AGM in Sydney.

“Currently we have only two domestic flights from two gates in the new terminal. By the end of July there will be six gates available; by September our entire domestic traffic will be in the new terminal, followed by the transfer of total Saudia operations in the early part of the new year,” Albrecht said.

The airport is embarking on a soft launch program, with services gradually ramping up over the next nine months.

Albrecht said Saudia was severely constrained with only eight flights per hour and 11 gates in the old terminal. “By spring 2019, we will be offering three arrival/departure waves and flight movements will grow up to 39 flights per hour. By then most destinations should be operating at least daily as well; some of our routes will be transferred from Riyadh to Jeddah. Riyadh will remain an important hub for us,” he said.

Initially, the new terminal at Jeddah’s new airport will handle 30 million passengers a year.

Saudia, a SkyTeam global alliance airline, expects full hub operations in spring 2019.

The carrier is working to increase the number of codeshare and alliance partnerships. Albrecht said there is significant interest from alliance partners because when Saudia reaches the right hub infrastructure in Jeddah, more growth opportunity will be created.

Albrecht also expects additional growth with the improved alliance business. “The interest from other alliance members is there. For example, our sales growth in North America offers flights via Jeddah to destinations [such as] Asia. In the past, we had only 3.5% of our total business from sixth freedom traffic; now this number has grown to 7% last year.

Saudia is also continuing to grow in terms of fleet. “In the last two years we added 62 new aircraft; this year there will be 18 deliveries,” Albrecht said. “That means we added 80 new aircraft in three years—aircraft like Boeing 787s, 777s, Airbus A330s and A320s. Twenty of those new aircraft are for replacement; the rest are for growth,” he said.

Kurt Hofmann