Qatar Airways’ plans to launch a domestic venture in Saudi Arabia look no closer to taking off, even though its rival received its air operator’s certificate (AOC) from local authorities this month.
SaudiGulf – a spinoff of Bahrain-based Gulf Air – was given the nod by Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) on June 9, and will receive its license at an official ceremony on June 22.
The airline will be based at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam and is expected to begin flights to Jeddah and Riyadh in the coming months.
Long licensing delays
However, no mention of Qatar Airways’ venture Al Maha Airways was made in the GACA announcement about SaudiGulf, despite the fact that both airlines were awarded the right to operate within Saudi Arabia in December 2012, as part of a plan to meet rising domestic demand there.
The carriers had originally planned to start operations in September 2014, but hit licensing problems.
Last year, a GACA official said both airlines would be flying by December, but that deadline came and went without any news.
Meanwhile, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said last year that the airline might not be up and running until summer 2016, adding: “We expect to have a six-to-18-month waiting period before the operation starts.”
New paint job
Although Al Maha Airways has yet to operate a flight, its A320 aircraft – painted white and green to match Saudi Arabia’s national colors – have been put to use by Qatar Airways on short-haul regional routes since they were delivered last year.
One of these, A7-LAA, was recently photographed leaving Shannon in Ireland after being repainted in Qatar Airways’ colors, suggesting that this plane at least is not immediately destined to enter service in Saudi.
And although the airline’s website still states that it is hiring and “launching soon,” a search on the site yields no current openings.
A Qatar Airways spokesperson told Doha News that the airline did not have any update to give on Al Maha’s planned operations.