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How Saudi Arabia’s National Carrier Outflew Emirates, Qatar Airways To Become The Largest Airlines In The Middle East

This summer, Saudia — Saudi Arabia’s national carrier — became the largest airline in the Middle East owing to its extensive domestic network that continued to grow despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Saudia has now surpassed Emirates and Qatar Airways, which always took the center stage because of their massive hub-and-spoke networks and well-marketed hard products.

In transport jargon, ‘hub-and-spoke’ refers to a network, which connects every location through a single intermediary location called a hub. A central airport can be a hub through which flights are routed, and spokes are the routes that planes take out of the central airport. This allows for greater flexibility within the transport system.

Saudia, previously known as Saudi Arabian Airlines, is headquartered in Jeddah. Its origin dates back to May 1945. Its emergence and development marked a watershed moment for the nation.

According to Simply Flying, Saudia currently possesses 158 planes with 103 wide-body and 55 narrow-body aircraft. It has jumped from third place in summer 2019 to the top position despite a travel ban from 20 nations. While Emirates has slipped from the first to the second rank, Qatar Airways has slipped from second to third position.

An analysis of anticipated seat capacity for every airline in the region using schedules provided by the carriers shows Saudia tops the list with 20.36 million round-trip seats this summer, according to OAG, a global travel data provider.

This is followed by Emirates: 19.88 million, Qatar Airways: 18.69 million, Etihad Airways: 7.26 million, Flydubai 6.41 million, Flynas: 4.56 million, Turkish Airlines: 4.07 million, Air Arabia: 3.98 million, Oman Air: 3.21 million, and, Mahan Air: 3.14 million up to 10th spot.

Saudia’s new position has been aided by far larger cuts at the UAE and Qatar airlines: Emirates is down 52%, while Qatar Airways is down 33%. Saudia, on the other hand, has reduced by only 26%, as reported by Simply Flying.

Saudia’s leading position is due to its extensive domestic network, which no other airline has been able to match this season. Given its short domestic routes and a huge fleet of narrow-body aircraft, the carrier is also the Middle East’s top airline by total flights.

Saudia aims to fly to 34 countries this summer. The airline’s domestic service now accounts for over six in ten seats. The top 10 countries it serves are: Saudi Arabia 12.51 million seats, followed by Egypt (1.36 million), UAE (1.10 million), Pakistan (960,000), India (744,000), Bangladesh (527,000), Sudan (387,000), Indonesia (346,000), Turkey (328,000) and, UK ( 215,000).

Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s key international airport. Before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia had planned to build a “hub-and-spoke” system in Jeddah. The opening of Terminal One in September 2019, with 45 contact stands and a capacity of 30 million passengers, are some key steps taken in this regard. 

With 628,000 seats, Saudia’s most popular route is Jeddah to Cairo, which has remained unchanged since 2019, however, the number is drastically reduced. In August, it will operate 35 weekly flights on this route. 

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