Qatar Airways to launch Saudi services early next year

Mon Nov 18, 2013 9:37am EST
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By Praveen Menon

DUBAI (Reuters) - Qatar Airways will launch domestic operations in Saudi Arabia in the first half of 2014, the chief executive of the airline said on Monday.

Akbar Al Baker said the Saudi domestic services carrier will be called Al Maha Airways and will start with the main cities of the kingdom including Riyadh and Jeddah, and then move to the second-tier cities.

"We have chosen the name of the Saudi carrier ... Al Maha Airways. We hope to start operations in the first half of next year," Baker told Reuters at the Dubai Airshow.

Qatar Airways and Bahrain's national carrier Gulf Air became the first foreign airlines to obtain carrier licenses in Saudi, following the opening of the country's aviation market last December.

Currently, only national carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines and budget airline National Air Services serve a domestic market of about 27 million people. Foreign carriers can only fly in and out of Saudi Arabia, not within the country.

With Saudi Arabia's price cap on domestic flights, private airlines have struggled with their profit margins.

Saudi Airlines, which is undergoing a slow privatization process, receives fuel at subsidized prices unlike private carriers, allowing it to offset the limits of the ticket cost ceiling.

"There is huge potential but also many challenges in the Saudi market," Baker said.   Continued...

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker (3rd R), Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani (4th R), Qatar's Minister of Energy and Industry Mohammed Saleh al-Sada (2ndR) and other delegates pose in front of a Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300 aircraft during a ceremony to mark the alliance of Qatar Airways with the oneworld grouping at the Hamad International airport in Doha October 29, 2013. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad