Qatar’s national carrier will launch its new venture in Saudi Arabia, Al Maha Airways, in November of this year – at least two months later than expected, the Arabic-language newspaper Al Makkah Daily has reported.
According to the report, which was translated into English by the Saudi Gazette, Qatar Airways is currently “formalizing procedures” ahead of its entry into the Saudi domestic airline market. It quotes a spokesman from KSA’s General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) as saying that :
“Al-Maha Airways and Saudi Gulf Airways will start operating in the Kingdom in November. The winter schedule will include flights of the two carriers.”
The GACA’s statement should alleviate concern that Al Maha might be blocked from launching in KSA, amid difficult diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Despite the reports, Qatar Airways has told Doha News that it currently has “no new update” on its launch plans for the Al Maha.
In January, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said the new airline would begin operations “any time between the middle to the third quarter of this year,” a schedule which now seems to be in doubt.
Al Maha – which means “oryx” in Arabic – will initially focus on major domestic routes within Saudi Arabia, including cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah.
The airline will sport the Qatar Airways oryx logo, but it will be in green instead of maroon, to match Saudi’s national colors.
Bloomberg reports that the airline will launch with a fleet of 10 Airbus aircraft.
Saudi Arabia announced its intention to expand its domestic aviation market in 2012, inviting foreign airlines to bid for the right to operate within KSA, not just into and out of the country.
In December of that year, two airlines – Qatar Airways and Bahrain-based Gulf Air (whose new airline will be called SaudiGulf Airlines) –were awarded licenses to operate in Saudi Arabia.
They will join national carrier Saudi Airlines and National Air Services NAS in catering to a growing domestic market boosted by population growth and higher incomes.