Regional airlines scramble to launch Saudi flights as tourist visa takes flight

Analysts expect Indian carriers in particular to tap into surge in demand for Saudi destinations
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Etihad Airways and IndiGo are the two latest airlines to announce plans for new flights to Saudi Arabia as they look to cash in on a surge in demand for the kingdom fuelled by the new tourism visa system.

Saudi Arabia opened up to tourists earlier this year with 23,000 people applying for a tourist visa in the first week of launching.

Now, several carriers in the Middle East and Asia have begun making plans to capitalise on the new demand for Saudi destinations.

Etihad Airways will add a fourth daily flight on its Abu Dhabi to Riyadh route next month while IndiGo has pledged to add services to Saudi from multiple locations in India.

Etihad, which already has a codeshare agreement with flag carrier Saudia, will operate A320s on its new flights.

Robin Kamark, chief commercial officer for Etihad Aviation Group, said: “The introduction of the new fourth daily service to Riyadh is demonstrative of our commitment to the Saudi market, and of the increase in demand on this core route.

“This has been boosted by warm relationship enjoyed by the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and by the recent easing of entry visa regulations for tourists entering the Kingdom.”

Meanwhile, Willy Boulter, chief commercial officer of IndiGo, told Arabian Business: “We have plans to expand our operations to Saudi Arabia to connect to more destinations as also to increase our frequency in some of our existing routes.”

Boulter did not share the specific plans but suggested that the proposed services to Saudi Arabia may launch in early 2020.

“There will be no launch of new flights to Saudi before this year end,” he said.

IndiGo currently operates direct flights to Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

Aviation industry analysts predict that other Indian carriers are also expected to announce plans for more flights to Saudi Arabia.

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