In the face of an intensifying climate crisis, airlines have much work to do yet to strengthen their sustainability strategy.
The head of Riyadh Air pledged the Saudi startup would be both commercially and environmentally sustainable and warned carriers that do not embrace climate concerns will fail.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which has more than $620 billion in assets under management, owns Riyadh Air. CEO Tony Douglas said the owners would impose strict financial expectations, which he did not specify.
Douglas was speaking at an event to present the airline on the eve of the Paris Airshow. It is launching at a time when airlines are under pressure to meet industry emission targets, with some facing legal pressure over alleged greenwashing.
“Ultimately it will be commercial aviation sustainability that will differentiate the winners and the losers, and anyone who doesn’t take it seriously will probably fail for sure,” Douglas said.
The creation of a second Saudi national airline was announced alongside a provisional order for up to 72 Boeing 787s in March, as oil producer Saudi Arabia diversifies its economy.
Douglas ruled out any further aircraft announcements at this week’s show.
However, industry sources said Riyadh Air was likely to sign a deal with General Electric for engines to power the recently ordered-Dreamliners.
Riyadh Air declined to comment. GE, which competes with Britain’s Rolls-Royce to power the wide-body jets, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Douglas said Riyadh Air continued to conduct a contest between Airbus and Boeing for narrowbody jets.
The airline plans to show a 787 this week painted in the airline’s new indigo livery.
Douglas declined to give details of the airline’s cabin product which he said would be rolled out progressively.
But he said it would involve an “obsessional” level of attention to detail, aided by systems to track passenger preferences closer to Amazon or Spotify than typical airlines.
Riyadh Air is launching flights in 2025 in a region whose carriers have well-established brands for high service levels.
Qatar Airways last year won Skytrax airline of the year for the seventh year in a row and Emirates last month topped the Business Traveller Middle East awards for a tenth time.
Douglas said it was easier to incorporate the latest digital customization from scratch without starting with legacy systems. That echoes claims by Air India, whose systems are so antiquated that its new CEO has said its relaunch amounts to a clean sheet.
Asked whether Riyadh Air would serve alcohol in its cabins amid Saudi Arabia’s strict laws on drinking, Douglas said the airline would always follow any laws that applied.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher Editing by Mark Potter and Chris Reese)
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Photo credit: Riyadh Air plans to show a 787 this week painted in the airline's new indigo livery. Manuel Negrerie / Riyadh Air Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner N8572C