The Kingdom’s push toward an open skies policy is attracting the interest of major airlines in the Gulf and raising hopes among travelers.
More than 54 million passengers passed through the Kingdom’s 27 airports last year, according to data from the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA), rising 13.6 percent from 2010.
“Saudi Arabia is a big market with huge distances to cover,” said John Stickland, director of UK-based JLS Consulting, told Reuters.
“It’s still moving cautiously but undoubtedly they are looking at what’s happening around them in the Gulf aviation market and realizing that it’s not logical to keep a strategy of just supporting the national
The Kingdom recently announced it would allow new carriers to operate in the Kingdom and would grant licenses for the right to operate both local and international flights.
GACA said recently 14 companies had applied for licenses to operate domestic and international flights in the country. Of these, seven have been short-listed and include those fully owned by Saudi nationals, Gulf firms and consortiums of Saudi-Gulf and Saudi-Chinese companies. The names of bidders were not revealed but authorities will meet with the short-listed firms next month to talk about the plans.
Most of those seeking a license are eyeing low-cost flights in the Kingdom.
“There are several motivations to look at this market, including the amount of business travel and also religious travel. Despite all that movement, the market has no exposure to low-cost travel,” Stickland told Reuters.
Sources close to discussions told Reuters most bids were from local Saudi firms looking to pick up aviation licenses. Firms from Bahrain have also shown keen interest.