Saudi Arabian Airlines is the latest airline to launch in-flight wifi connectivity and allow passengers to utilize their mobile phones while in flight … and it signals Saudi Arabian Airlines‘ potential march toward the forefront of Gulf State carriers.
While I have largely stopped writing about airlines installing wifi on flights due to the rapid growth in this area, the fact that Saudi Arabian Airlines has installed in-flight wifi and the ability to use mobile phones throughout its Airbus A330 fleet, reminded me how most of those covering the airline industry seem to be completely ignore Saudi Arabian Airlines’ potential as an airline giant quietly sitting in the sands of The Kingdom waiting to patiently to make its move.
The competition for airlines in the Middle East, especially in The Gulf, is fierce. The Gulf Region is home to Emirates, the world’s largest airline by international revenue passenger miles flown; Etihad, which has received more top awards from SkyTrax and other major industry organizations than I can even begin to list over the past few years ; Oman Air which has recently branched out in a spectacular way since Gulf Air closed its hub in Muscat to focus only on Bahrain; Qatar Airways,a SkyTrax 5-Star airline that is determined to turn Doha into a global hub … and the failing Gulf Air which has the potential to surprise many people and become a regionally focused powerhouse . So where does this leave Saudi Arabian Airlines?
Saudi Arabian does not currently have the best international network and its schedule can be tricky to work around, but since the Government has owned the airline it has survived quietly dominating the skies over Saudi Arabia. The future however for Saudi Arabian Airlines is often overlooked and largely ignored … despite the airline selling off various units for private ownership and the airline itself moving towards privatization.
The airline has been slowly (OK not so slowly) modernizing its fleet, and is expecting to receive an additional 4 more Airbus A330-300s, as well as 12 Boeing 777-300ERs and 12 787-900s, ultimately creating a fleet consisting of 80 long haul aircraft … in addition to its 91 short-haul aircraft … overtaking Qatar Airways’ long haul fleet of 65 aircraft and dwarfing Oman Air’s long haul fleet of 16 aircraft.
Aside from fleet size, how is Saudi Arabian Airlines quietly poised to be a massive force in the region? While many are put off by the travel restrictions to Saudi Arabia and hassle of receiving a visa to The Kingdom … no visa is required for in-transit travel through The Kingdom for those not exiting the airport into Saudi Arabia.
Once Saudi Arabian Airlines’s long haul & short haul fleets are completed, the airline will have the potential to expand its connections points from the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia … and in fact would have a better route network, and access to additional regional destinations, to move passengers from major business hubs outside the Middle East to destinations within the Middle East. Additionally, looking at Saudi Arabian Airlines’ regional connections from its long haul hubs, and size of its short haul fleet compared to its competitors, the airline will have a greater potential for profitability in these markets, than its competitors.
One thing that does leave me scratching my head about Saudi Arabian Airlines is this … with the introduction of in-flight internet connectivity, will the internet be filtered? Saudi Arabia has one of the strictest internet censorship policies in the world, with more than 1,000,000 websites and blogs blocked.
Does OnAir have the ability to filter the content streamed through in-flight internet for Saudi Arabian Airlines’ aircraft? If there is a filter, can users in-flight circumvent the filters through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) as some do within The Kingdom?
Regardless of in-flight connectivity issues … take a look at Saudi Arabian Airlines‘ complete fleet, as well as its route map, then look at the routes maps of its competitors within Southwest Asia, South Asia, North Africa and the potential to interlink the Middle East to any number of major business destinations in North America, Europe and Asia with its growing fleet…
…a new serious competitor is on the horizon and it cannot be overlooked any longer.