A Saudi Arabian Airlines Saudia plane is pictured on the tarmac of the Ataturk Airport on April 4, 2019, in Istanbul. - A transfer of Istanbul's Ataturk airport operations to its new international facility will begin at April 6 early morning. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

Soaring Competition: The Middle East’s aviation rebound takes off as Saudi Arabia challenges leading airlines

April 2023 Al-Monitor PRO Trend Report 

3884 words



Global travel is back, fueling resurgent passenger demand for the Middle East’s vaunted long-haul carriers. Al-Monitor estimates that the Gulf’s Big Three airlines — Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad — likely combined to carry over 65 million travelers in 2022, a huge rebound after COVID-19 shutdowns battered the sector. Simultaneously, key regional hubs once again ranked among the world’s busiest in 2022, with a combined 166 million travelers transiting through Dubai, Istanbul and Doha.  

Now, a return to profitability is in sight for the region’s aviation sector in 2023 as industry players make up for years of lost growth. But that’s not the biggest storyline on the radar of industry watchers. “It has to be Saudi Arabia,” said John Grant, chief analyst with airline data provider OAG, who points to the kingdom’s rapid airport expansion, aggressive air service development, renegotiation of air service agreements and now — most notably — a brand new airline. In March 2023, Saudi Arabia unveiled Riyadh Air, a new national carrier set to take flight by 2025 and take intense competition to new heights.  

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