Saudi Arabian Airlines: Flying from Strength to Strength

July 31, 2012 in Tourism & Leisure

The world has become a much smaller place and as it does so, some businesses are better placed than others to capitalise.

In May, DG Eng. Khaled Al-Molhem and Mr. Michael Wisbrun, SkyTeam’s Managing Director, signed an historic agreement in the presence of Prince Fahd bin Abdullah, Chairman of Saudi Arabian Airlines. The agreement cemented Saudi Arabian Airlines’ membership of SkyTeam, enabling the airline to increase its offering to 14,700 daily flights operated by alliance members, to 958 destinations across 173 countries.

48023011Under the patronage of HH Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Muhammad Al-Saud, President of the General Authority of Civil Aviation, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Saudia celebrated its joining of SkyTeam global alliance during a ceremony at King Abdulaziz International Airport.

By signing agreements with member airlines, Saudi Airlines became the 16th member of SkyTeam and the first member in the Middle East.

In his welcome speech, the DG spoke about Saudi Airlines’ strategic plans that brought about modernization of its technical infrastructure, upgrade of its service systems by applying modern international passenger management systems. He also referred to the airline’s fleet modernization efforts by purchasing 90 new aircraft. Of these aircraft it has already received 54 Airbus and Boeing 777 planes.

The speech and the historic agreement both underlined how far Saudi Arabian Airlines has come in a short space of time. SkyTeam offers its 506 million annual passengers a worldwide network of flights. The DG told the gathering that the new fleet would enable Saudia
to expand its domestic and international services and operate direct flights to most destinations. He highlighted Saudia’s efforts to enhance the capabilities of its staff by providing them with advanced and intensive training, either at its facilities in Saudi Arabia or sending them to reputable international institutions of higher learning.

Saudi Airlines had rather smaller plans at the beginning, starting out in 1945 with a single twin-engine DC-3 (Dakota) HZ-AAX given to King Abdul Aziz as a gift by the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt following a meeting in the Suez Canal.

64471483The DC-3 was used on routes between Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran and carried both passengers and cargo. Within months two similar aircraft were purchased and the following year saw the formation of Saudi Arabian Airlines as an operating agency of the Ministry of Defence.

The airline’s first airport and operating base was located at Kandara, close to what is today’s downtown area of Jeddah. Haj pilgrims were flown to Jeddah from Lydda, Palestine and other countries. In the same year, Saudi Arabian Airlines requested permission for charter flights to London.

The ensuing decade saw the Kingdom increase the size of its fleet and routes and by its tenth anniversary, the airline had brought all outlying communities of the Kingdom to within a few hours’ journey of each other, both to and from Riyadh and Jeddah.

By 1962 the company was the first airline in the Middle East to operate commercial jet liners and the following year it became a corporation when King Faisal signed a Royal Decree.

The airline continued to establish international links and demand saw Saudia, as it was now called, carry over one million passengers for the first time in 1973.

Throughout its history, technology and training have played important roles in the development of Saudi Airlines and in 1978 the organisation opened its new Automated Reservations System. Jeddah reservations which included a Data Processing Centre, opened in 1971, installed a Collins Automated Call Distribution (ACD) System, handling incoming reservation calls in an organized, systematic manner. The following year the company launched its Flight Training Centre.

74994778The arrival of the 1980s, saw Saudi Arabia’s economic influence continue to escalate and consequently demand for flights to and from the Kingdom. Saudi Arabian Airlines moved into its exclusive terminal at the newly-opened King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah. Saudi
Airlines Catering Service was also established as customer expectations continued to rise on flights.

On July 1st, 1981, the first nonstop service was inaugurated from Jeddah to New York with the airline’s very own Boeing B747-SP aircraft. This service, along with the Riyadh-New York service introduced later, are the only nonstop flights covering four continents, linking Asia and America, and over flying Africa and Europe in between.

A measure of the rate of growth came in 1983, just ten years after the airline had first carried a million customers; it carried 11.4 million passengers. The new King Khaled International Airport opened in Riyadh and a Rolls-Royce RB-211 power plant overhaul shop was opened in Jeddah.

As the 1980s drew to a close the Gulf Cooperation Council Aviation Services Co. Ltd. (GASCO) was established for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and U.A.E. in 1987. This was a significant step towards closer cooperation among GCC countries. That same year, in recognition of the Kingdom’s increasing influence on the world of commerce, Saudi Airlines introduced its “Horizon Class” for business travellers on flights to New York, London, and Cairo.

The dawn of the new Century saw H.R.H. Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, Minister of Defense & Aviation sign a contract to conduct studies for the privatization of the airline on October 8th. By this time the airline’s catering was producing 13.5 million meals a year. Operationally the technical services and materials management divisions of the airline received ISO-9002:1994 certification while its print shop facility received ISO-9001:1994 certification from Moody International.

75526573Saudi Airlines celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2005, hitting another milestone when it carried 16 million passengers. Further good news came when Mr Pierre Jeanniot, Director General Emeritus of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) advised the organisation that it had ranked first among forty-three world airlines on “Operational Safety Audits.”

Embracing the increasing customer clamour for technology, e-ticketing was introduced in 2008 and a year later Saudi Airlines signed an agreement with SITA to upgrade the airline’s technical infrastructure and link 250 SV offices in 60 countries through the Internet. In January of 2010 the first batch of graduates from Saudia’s Future Pioneers training program passed out. The program was introduced to train highly qualified Saudis to take up important positions in the various sectors of the organization.

Saudi Airlines goes from strength to strength. Today it operates one hundred and thirty-nine aircraft, including the latest and most advanced wide-bodied jets presently available: B747-400s, B747-300s, B747-100s, B777-200s, Airbus A300-600s, MD-11s and MD90s.

51823147The link with SkyTeam promises to take Saudi Airlines to another level and underlines the importance of the business; “Saudia’s membership adds value to the alliance by opening up the considerable Saudi Arabian market to our customers,” said Mr. Wisbrun. “We are responding to
passenger demand for increased travel choice within the Middle East by adding a significant player from the region”.

In his keynote speech, Prince Fahd bin Abdullah emphasized the importance of joining an alliance of international airlines in this age of globalization. He referred to the efforts of GACA in strengthening air transport in the Kingdom by constructing modern airports. The new King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah will soon join these facilities, adding that it would be one of the largest hubs in the
world.