What Pandemic? Saudi Arabia’s Flyadeal To Double In Size Next Year

flyadeal is the low-cost subsidiary of Saudia. Taking off four years ago in September 2017 with three A320ceos, the carrier focuses strongly on the domestic market. And although it has expanded quickly already, it expects to double in size by the end of 2022.

flyadeal A320
flyadeal now has 15 A320s, both ceo and neo. Photo: sg578018 via Flickr.

flyadeal is the second-largest domestic carrier

The Saudi low-cost carrier has been in expansion mode since its birth. It ended 2017 with 217,000 round-trip seats, OAG data shows, growing to 2.9 million in 2018 and 5.3 million a year later. It became Saudia Arabia’s second-largest domestic operator in 2020, partly from flynas’ pandemic-driven decline and partly from Flyadeal still growing.

Speaking at World Routes, an event for ‘speed-dating’ between airlines and airports, Con Korfistis, Flyadeal’s CEO, said: “Today, we have a relatively comprehensive domestic network.” It comprises 19 routes, with Jeddah-Riyadh, Jeddah-Dammam, Abha-Riyadh, and Abha-Jeddah, and Dammam-Riyadh its top-five by seats for sale. As Korfistis explained:

“We operate a fleet of 15 aircraft [11 A320ceos, four A320neos] and have now carried 12.5 million passengers, so we’re in a very aggressive growth phase and we have high productivity of our aircraft.”

Saudi Arabia's top-three domestic operators
flyadeal has 3% more seats for sale in 2021 than it did in 2019. Source of data: OAG.

flyadeal is to double in size by the end of 2022

flyadeal is far from being done, helped by “still having work to do, places to go” domestically and growing internationally, as we see below. The key to this is Saudi Vision 2030, which is “very core” to the LCC. The carrier – and other players in the industry – are “single-minded to deliver the tourism targets of passengers” as the country seeks to diversify away from oil.

For airlines, growth and scale are two important criteria. Not in themselves – or at least, they shouldn’t be – but for what they enable. flyadeal is no different, as Korfistis explained.

“By the end of next year, we’re going to double the size of the airline. We are already larger today than we were pre-COVID and we’re going to put down the accelerator on that substantially more. It’s a huge leap of faith in future potential.”

One question is the degree to which this comes from ‘new’ passengers – those who didn’t travel previously – versus more price-conscious shifting from Saudia. After all, notice in the above figure how little Saudia grew domestically between 2017-2019. The role of low-cost subsidiaries has traditionally been to remove less profitable customers from the parent to the lower-cost platform.

Flyadeal_Riyadh_Dubai_1
Those celebrating the launch of Riyadh to Dubai included Con Korfistis, flyadeal’s CEO (center left), and Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Maghlouth, CEO Riyadh Airports Company, Image: Riyadh Airport.

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Pleased it didn’t begin international sooner

flyadeal’s first international route from Riyadh to Dubai took off in July, although it was an inauspicious start as the UAE banned Saudi travelers four days later. Nonetheless, it is back in the air again, with the 473 nautical mile airport pair served twice daily. Korfistis said that the LCC had intended to fly internationally by year three but is glad it didn’t.

If we had a substantial fleet for international, things would now be very different. We’re fortunate that we haven’t had to change too much.”

Flyadeal Riyadh to Dubai
flyadeal has two daily flights from Riyadh to Dubai. F3503 operated to the UAE when this article was written. Image: Radarbox.com.

More international routes are coming

Looking ahead, Korfistis will be opening more international routes, which is why he was at World Routes for the first time – to meet prospective airports to serve. “We have another couple of routes coming [in the short-term].”

He said they’re looking at more ‘innovative’ routes, mainly those unserved, and is chatting with airports to see where makes sense. This has probably been inspired by flynas launching Riyadh to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, in August.

What do you make of flyadeal’s plans? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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