Riyadh Air Will Collaborate With Singapore Airlines to Punch Into Asia Market Early

Skift Take

Riyadh Air and Singapore Airlines’ new collaboration is likely one of many to come.

Riyadh Air and Singapore Airlines have signed a commercial collaboration agreement on Tuesday, likely one of many such deals for the Saudi carrier as it opts to build a “virtual network” rather than an Emirates-sized fleet.

For Riyadh Air, the deal could help the airline punch into the Asia markets much quicker when it launches next year. The Saudi airline announced its first and only order in March 2023, with 72 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. However, Riyadh Air did not announce another order at the packed Dubai Airshow.

Riyadh Air was launched in 2023 by the Kingdom’s crown prince, looking to connect to 100 destinations by 2030 and significantly support the country’s lofty 150 million visitor goal that same year. Headed by the former chief of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, the carrier says it will create 200,000 jobs by the end of the decade and contribute billions to the local economy.

While Riyadh Air has the cash for a properly sized fleet — it is backed by the country’s sovereign wealth fund PIF — the aviation industry has been plagued by supply chain challenges. Should Riyadh Air see delays in its fleet, codeshare deals could help the carrier grow its networks even without all its planes in the air.

With this deal, the two carriers will explore opportunities for interline connectivity on each other’s services, subject to regulatory approval. They will also work on other potential areas of commercial cooperation, including codeshare arrangements, benefits for their frequent flyer program members, cargo services, customer experience, and digital.

These will potentially offer Riyadh Air’s guests access to Singapore Airlines’ network in South East Asia and the South West Pacific region, and Singapore Airlines’ customers greater access to the Middle East region through Riyadh Air’s network.

Hurdles for Riyadh Air

Aircraft delivery challenges can be quite real for airlines. “When aircraft are delivered six months late that is considered to be on time,” IATA chief economist Marie Owens Thomsen said at the association’s general meeting last year. 

For Riyadh Air, that problem hits harder in the absence of a network and a current fleet. 

“We don’t have a plan B, and the reason why we don’t have a plan B is obvious,” Riyadh Air CEO Tony Douglas said at the Skift Global Forum East 2023. “If I was Lufthansa, if I was Qatar Airways, and they were delivered late, I’ll change my network around. I might extend some leases but we don’t have a current fleet. We don’t have a network until the first deliveries arrive. And so what we’ve tried to make clear with everybody is we do need special care.”

Relying on Codeshare in Initial Phases

In November last year, CEO Douglas said the airline would rely on such deals in its initial phases to rapidly bolster its list of destinations.

He said to Aviation Week: “We definitely need to establish strong relationships on other continents and have received very warm responses from big carriers in Asia, Europe, the [Middle East] region and the Americas. We will need those strong partnerships to develop a ‘virtual network’ … destinations that we operate through codeshares without physically flying to, at least in the beginning.”  

Also in November, fellow national carrier Saudia announced an agreement with Riyadh Air, including codeshares and loyalty scheme tie-ups.

In December 2023, Riyadh Air made a similar agreement with Turkish Airlines – all before the carrier even conducts its first flight.

Saudi Tourism Targets

The country has a tourism target of 150 million travelers by 2030, combining both international and domestic guests to hit that goal. Tourism chiefs are eyeing around 70 million international visits that same year. In 2023, Saudi saw 77 million domestic tourists and 27 million international ones, totaling 104 million visits.

See Riyadh Air CEO Tony Douglas at Skift Global Forum East 2023

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