In an interview at APEX / IFSA Global EXPO, with SimpliFlying CEO Shashank Nigam, SAUDIA CEO Captain Ibrahim Koshy shared key insights into the airline’s growth strategy and its commitment to sustainability. The discussion covered various aspects of SAUDIA’s operations, from its response to the pandemic to its ambitious plans for the future.
Growth and Recovery Post-Pandemic
Captain Koshy began the interview by discussing SAUDIA’s post-pandemic recovery.
Key to this is the rapid changes taking place in Saudi Arabia’s economy. For example, tourism, “used to contribute 3% of GDP in Saudi Arabia, right now it’s 7%. Sports used to contribute 0.4% of GDP, now it’s 1.5%.”
All this is increasing the demand for flights into Saudi Arabia, with the country targeting 100 million visits by 2030. Overall, international traffic was showing a lot of promise, surpassing 2019 levels by 24%.
On-time performance (OTP) had improved significantly, with SAUDIA ranking among the top five airlines for OTP.
New Innovations and Products
Captain Koshy introduced several innovations and products that SAUDIA was proud of, including the introduction of 4K OLED screens. The airline had also incorporated passenger feedback, leading to improvements such as Bluetooth connectivity, “so they can connect using their own devices, their own headsets.”
In terms of the in-flight service, Captain Koshy talked about the need to introduce “genuine hospitality”, which can be seen in a new cuisine range with three options.
The first will be a traditional Saudi option, the second an Arabic option and the third is determined by the destination you are flying to, for example North America, or the Far East or India.
Captain Koshy said that SAUDIA’s commitment to passenger experience has extended to its premium lounges and ground services.
The airline had launched a flagship lounge at its main hub in Jeddah, offering a wide range of amenities, from date bars from pizza stations, which are popular with families.
A similar lounge is under construction in Riyadh, highlighting Saudia’s dedication to providing a consistent and luxurious experience for its premium passengers.
In the conversation with Shashank Nigam, Captain Koshy discussed Saudia’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact and meet sustainability goals.
Here, he emphasised the fleet renewal programme and “more fuel efficient aircraft.” However, Captain Koshy also pointed to some of the wider initiatives taking place in the region, for example, “what many people don’t really realise is that sustainability is a big part of (the country’s) Vision 2030, and if we don’t keep up, I’ll be out of a job.”
As a result, the airline is actively exploring the use of lower carbon emission fuels (LCF) and collaborating with industry leaders like Aramco to deploy these fuels in its fleet. SAUDIA is also involved in the Middle East’s voluntary carbon market, demonstrating its commitment to sustainability.
Finally, SAUDIA will be using a blend of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) on the first flights to the new Red Sea International Airport, something which is mandated for all flights coming to the new airport.
Future Prospects and Opportunities
Concluding the discussion, Captain Koshy expressed excitement about SAUDIA’s future growth prospects, particularly in the tourism sector. He emphasised that the growth of tourism in Saudi Arabia presented significant opportunities for the airline and the wider industry.