Saudi Arabian Airlines, formerly known as Saudia, is one of the most prominent examples of the giant civilization and development challenge that His Majesty late King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud, (May God Have Mercy On Him), laid the foundation stone for with his vision and foresight for the future.
Every civilized achievement is measured by the nature of the environmental conditions and the level of human and material capabilities at the time. The more difficult the environmental conditions and the more modest the capabilities, the greater the achievement’s value and potential.
In this issue of LEADERS MENA magazine, we are stepping back to May 27, 1945, to shed light on Saudi Arabia’s history. There was a single DC3 aircraft, the plane that was given to King Abdulaziz by US President Franklin Roosevelt. This aircraft made the first flight of air traffic over Saudi Arabia.
The plane began transporting passengers between Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dhahran. Later King Abdulaziz ordered the purchase of several planes to support air transport in the Kingdom.
In September 1946, the founding of SAUDI was announced and it adopted its emblem (SDI), which was affiliated with the Ministry of Defense and Aviation.
On October 28 of the same year, the first international flights took off to Lod Airport in Palestine to transport pilgrims through the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
In the immediately following year (1947), the first scheduled domestic flights were operated between Jeddah, Riyadh, Hofuf, and Dhahran, in addition to international flights to Amman, Beirut, Cairo, and Damascus, using DC-3 aircraft.
In 1948 five DC-4s and five Bristols (170) were purchased to support the international flight network.
As of today, Saudia owns more than (142) aircraft, including the Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner, the Boeing B777-268, the Boeing B777-300ER, the Airbus A320-200, and the Airbus A321, in addition to the A330-300.
In 1952 and 1953, the number of SAUDIA’s fleet reached (20) aircraft, including (10 DC-3 aircraft, five Bristol aircraft (170), and five (DC-4) Skymaster aircraft.
The fleet was also strengthened by the purchase of ten Convair 340 aircraft with air-conditioned cabins with pressurized air, each with a seating capacity of (44) passengers, thus extending the international flight network to Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Basra, Asmara, Karachi, Istanbul.
Two DC-4 planes were added to the fleet in order to connect Jeddah station with Beirut and Damascus.
In 1954, SAUDIA inaugurated new domestic stations in Madinah, Buraydah, Khamis Mushait, Jizan, and Najran, and a new international station, Port Sudan.
In the same year, the first Dakota DC3 aircraft with 24 seats landed at Tabuk Airport, and the runway was then dirt.
In 1956, the international network expanded to cover the Qatari capital, Doha, in the east. It also covered Basra to Baghdad, from Medina to Amman, and Damascus in the north, and Jazan to Hodeidah in the south.
The internal network extended between Jeddah and Medina, Al-Wajh, Tabuk, Turaif, Banda, Yanbu, Sakaka, Al-Qurayyat, and Riyadh, and each of Zulfi, Al-Majma`ah, Turbah, and Bisha.
In 1958, the nucleus of the Pilot Training Institute was established in the city of Jeddah.
In 1959, the international network continued to expand to reach Port Sudan, Khartoum, and Abadan, while Riyadh was linked to Beirut and Damascus through the Dhahran station.
1961 was the date for SAUDIA to enter the era of jet aviation, and to become the first airline in the Middle East to own jet aircraft, with two Boeing (720) aircraft joining its fleet, each with a capacity of (119) passengers.
Flights were operated to Beirut, Cairo, Amman, and Tehran.
This type of aircraft constituted a distinct qualitative leap in the march of Saudi Airlines by surpassing the airlines operating in the Middle East in this field, and the Boeing (720) plane cut the distance between Jeddah and Riyadh by an hour and twenty minutes.
The Convair 340 traveled the same distance in two hours and twenty minutes, and the Douglas DC-3 did the same thing in three and a half hours.
In 1962, Boeing 720s began scheduled flights to Beirut, Amman, and Cairo.
On February 19, 1963, Royal Decree No. By the law (45), Saudi Airlines became an independent institution under the name “The General Organization of Saudi Airlines” and has a board of directors responsible for its management.
In the same year, SAUDIA began developing training programs to qualify Saudi cadres in the fields of air, technical and administrative training. Two new international stations have also been added to Shiraz and Karachi.
In 1964 the DC-4 Skymasters were replaced by the DC-6 to meet the growing demand for domestic and international travel.
Additionally, a Boeing 720 aircraft was operated on the Jeddah/Riyadh/Dhahran line, and the Tabline (Dhahran/Qaisumah/Rafha/Badnah) line from there to Amman and Beirut, as well as the implementation of many developments and improvements at the three main airports in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dhahran in preparation for receiving jet aircraft.
In 1965, the Arab Air Transport Association (ACO) was established, Saudi Airlines was one of its founding members, and the Bombay station in India was added to the international network.
In 1967, “Saudi Arabia” joined the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and in the same year, three (DC-9) jet aircraft joined the fleet to support the international flight network that included Tripoli, Tunisia, and Rabat in North Africa, and Frankfurt, Geneva, and London in Europe.
In 1968, two other long-range Boeing (707) aircraft joined the fleet, starting with two direct flights every week between Jeddah and London.
In 1969, Algeria joined the international flight network so that “Saudi Arabia” completed its services to all North African countries, and all of its (DC-9) aircraft operated with Saudi crews.
In 1970, the number of Saudia flights to Sanaa and Hodeidah in Yemen increased to two flights per week, and a new flight was operated on the Jeddah/Dhahran/Dubai/Karachi/Bombay sector.
In terms of domestic flights, the number of flights between Dhahran, Riyadh, and Jeddah increases to three flights per day. This is in addition to two flights per week on the Jeddah/Abha and Riyadh/Abha routes.
In 1971, Casablanca replaced Rabat as the “Saudi Arabia” station in Morocco, a new flight was added to Rome, and an air cargo flight was operated to connect Jeddah and Dhahran with Frankfurt and London with a Boeing (707).
It also uses the latest computers (IBM-360\20) for planning and daily operations.
In the same year, the runway of Tabuk Airport was modernized, and Saudia opened its first branch there.
In 1972, the Corporation adopted the term “SAUDIA” as its official name, and the colors of its fleet changed from green and black separated by a thin golden ribbon to green and blue in their light and dark shades to modernize the mental image of the national carrier among its customers.
In the same year, special agreements were concluded with (53) international airlines to transport pilgrims.
Five new Boeing (737) aircraft, which at that time were considered among the most modern twin-engine jets, joined “Saudi Arabia”.
At that time, Saudia services reached (49) cities spread over three continents and (20) cities within the Kingdom.
In 1973, “SAUDIA” transported, for the first time in its history, one million passengers in one year on board its flights, and the percentage of air freight carried on “Saudia” flights increased to (53%), and “Saudia” added two more Boeing (737) planes.
In 1974, “SAUDIA” added two more Boeing (737) planes to its fleet, and started new flights to Paris and Muscat, as well as direct flights from Medina to Karachi.
In the same year, Saudi Arabia began operating international flights from Tabuk to Istanbul, Beirut, Damascus, Amman, and Cairo.
In 1975, “Saudi Arabia witnessed a comprehensive developmental leap that accompanied the economic boom that the country witnessed, which was associated with the development and civilized projects throughout the country.”
It was during this period that Saudia achieved more than any other airline in its history, as two Tristar (L-1011) planes first joined the Saudi fleet, along with two Boeing (707) and three Fokker (27).
This year, for the first time in its history, the number of passengers on Saudia’s domestic and international flights exceeded three million, and special flights were operated as a stand-alone unit in Jeddah within the framework of “Saudia”.
In 1976, eleven new aircraft joined the fleet, including three Tristar aircraft. Flights to Casablanca were doubled, and Saudia operated a direct flight between Riyadh and London, and other flights between Jeddah and Geneva, and Jeddah and Tunisia.
In 1977, Saudia added to its fleet (46) modern planes, including (8) Tristar planes, (10) Boeing (707) planes, two Boeing (720) planes, and (16) Boeing planes. 737).
In the same year, the number of passengers on domestic and international flights exceeded five million, and the quantities of air freight increased to (38) million kilograms, an increase of nine million kilograms over the year 1976.
The number of passengers continues to increase year after year, reaching 1978 (6.5) million passengers, and three new Boeing (737) aircraft are joining the fleet.
In the same year, a new center for medical services was opened in Jeddah, and a newly-developed automated reservation system was operated in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, and London.
In 1979, for the first time in its history, “SAUDIA” transported (8) million passengers, and the quantities of air freight transported amounted to (61) million kilograms.
A direct flight was also operated between Dhahran and New York, and the Department of Air Operations was linked to the (FRIARS) system and maintained to the (MEMIS) system.
In 1980, the number of passengers increased to (9 million passengers) the quantities of air cargo reached (72) million kilograms, and four Tristar aircraft joined the fleet.
At the international level, attention has been paid to expanding the international network to include Saudia flights to Athens, Kano, Stockholm, Mogadishu, Nairobi, and Bangkok.
A joint service was also opened in cooperation with American Airlines with long-range Boeing (747) aircraft.
Saudia also leased two Boeing (747) wide-body aircraft to enhance its capabilities and face the increasing boom in air travel, in addition to two other (DC-8) aircraft for use in transporting cargo inside and outside the Kingdom.
The Fokker F-27 helicopters were replaced by Fokker F-28 jets to support the domestic flight network to the northern regions of the Kingdom.
In 1981, King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah was officially opened. Saudia continued its launch, expanding its international network to New Delhi, Islamabad, Dhaka, and Colombo in Asia, and Seoul, Jakarta, Singapore, and Manila in the Far East.
It also started operating non-stop direct lines between Jeddah and Casablanca, and between Jeddah and New York and expanded its internal network by adding Yanbu and Al Baha.
The company expanded its services to Abha using Tristar and Airbus wide-body aircraft.
As part of its endeavor to improve the level of its services to customers, Saudia established the first catering unit in Jeddah this year. This unit will prepare meals for its flights and those of other airlines.
As a result of the huge expansion in the size of the fleet and the air network, “Saudia” achieved 1983 a new record in the number of passengers carried on its flights, which amounted to more than (11) million passengers, an increase of eleven times what was transported in 1973.
In 1984, 11 Airbus (A-300) aircraft joined the “Saudia” fleet, to begin its flights on domestic and regional routes, and Colombo station was added to the network of international stations.
In 1985, “SAUDI” received the first five Boeing 747-300 aircraft after it had signed a contract to purchase ten of them, which are distinguished by the spaciousness of their cabins and accommodate (424) passengers.
The Jakarta station also joined the international network of Saudi Airways flights, and this year the Air Training Academy was opened in Jeddah.
In 1986, the other five Boeing (747-300) aircraft joined the Saudia fleet.
A hub for air cargo collection was also created in Brussels to cover Northern Europe, and Amsterdam and Lahore were added to Saudia’s international stations.
In the same year, Saudia stations in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dhahran achieved an operational performance rate that exceeded (90%), and the percentage of Saudis working in the institution increased to (65%).
In 1987, Hafr Al-Batin station was added to the domestic flight network, and Dakar and Kuala Lumpur stations were added to the international flight network. In a historic achievement, the Saudia automated reservation system known as (SARS) was transferred from London to Jeddah.
The SARS automated reservation system was also launched in Jeddah, and the Horizon class was introduced on board Saudia flights for business use.
In 1988, Washington and Bangkok were added to the international flight network. A hub for air cargo collection was established in Taipei to cover the Far East, as well as Milan and Brussels to cover Europe.
In 1989, SAUDIA launched cargo flights to Taipei with a Boeing (747) cargo plane. Larnaca in Cyprus was added to the international network so that it became station number 50 among Saudia’s international stations.
The Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa followed, and the city of Hafr Al-Batin becomes the 24th station on the domestic flight network.
During this period, a medical bag service was introduced on board Saudia planes.
In the field of air freight, Saudia services extended to London, Paris, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam with Boeing (747) aircraft, and from Jeddah to Zurich and Paris with (DC-8) aircraft.
Continuing its interest in keeping pace with the increasing demand for air transport, “Saudia” has enhanced its fleet with Boeing aircraft with an extended overhead cabin, in addition to Airbus (A-300) wide-body aircraft.
In 1990, Wadi Al-Dawasir station joined the network of domestic flights, and the percentage of Saudis working in the various sectors of the institution reached (75% of the total number of (23,000) employees.
Air cargo flights were also operated to Tokyo, Japan, at a rate of one flight per week.
In 1991 and 1992, the number of passengers on Saudia’s domestic and international flights reached (11.5 million), and the volume of air cargo reached more than (184) million kilograms.
The network of international flights extended to the Indian city of Madras, in addition to direct flights from Prince Muhammad bin Abdulaziz Airport in Madinah to Karachi.
Within the framework of cooperation with Arab airlines through the Arab Air Carriers Association (ACO), an agreement was reached with Arab airlines to participate in the global system for the global distribution of automated reservations (Arabi / Galileo).
In the field of reservation and automated tickets, an Arabi unit for automated distribution was launched to serve the travel and tourism sectors in the Kingdom.
“SAUDIA” began implementing its plan in 1993 to issue boarding passes for pilgrims and Umrah pilgrims (24) hours before the departure time, and an automated luggage search system was introduced in (38) domestic and international airports.
And this year, the new building of the General Administration of the “Saudi Arabia” branch was opened and a reservation and sales office was opened in the French capital, Paris, and the “Saudi Arabia” media campaign was launched under the slogan “We are proud of your service.”
A system for canceling reservation confirmation has also been implemented for international return and return flights.
In 1994, the first Saudia flights were operated to Orlando, Florida, as the airline’s third station in the United States after New York and Washington.
Saudia also resumed flights to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
And this year, Saudi Airlines set up special phones to cancel confirmed reservations for those whose circumstances prevented them from traveling. This was done to provide an opportunity for other passengers and reduce the phenomenon of vacant seats on planes.
In 1995, SAUDIA celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first launch. Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz announced his support for the Corporation with the purchase of (61 aircraft) from the most modern aircraft factories in the world, including five Boeing (747-400), 29 MD-90 aircraft, 23 Boeing (777-200), and four (MD-11) cargo planes.
Due to the fact that the “SAUDIA” fleet serves Muslims by transporting them from different parts of the world to perform the Hajj and Umrah rituals, prayer areas have been allocated on board each plane during flight. These prayer rooms are equipped with various safety systems provided by the manufacturer.
In 1996, SAUDIA announced the renewal of its personality, along with unveiling its brand new logo, in conjunction with the comprehensive strategy that was adopted by the institution’s management to achieve the message of “Saudi Arabia” being a world-class air carrier with Saudi characteristics, caring for its customers and keenly taking care of its employees.
In 1997, Saudia resumed flights to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, after a fifteen-year hiatus, with four flights per week, two from Riyadh and two from Jeddah.
In 1998, Saudi Arabia inaugurated a number of its new offices in Makkah, Hafr Al-Batin, Qatif, the Jordanian capital Amman, Tunis, and Geneva. It also approved the issuance of boarding passes for pilgrims to travel to and return from the station of origin.
This year, SAUDIA launched two direct flights from Dhahran to Heathrow Airport in London.
The 2000s … New Millennium
In 2000, His Royal Highness Late Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz signed a financial consultancy contract with the financial advisor group and the expert houses, which includes the National Bank of Paris and the European Bank of Paribas, in partnership with the Gulf Investment Corporation, the Gulf International Bank, (SH&E) and (K.P.M.G) to develop a program to privatize Saudi Airlines.
His Highness also signed a legal consultancy contract for the same opportunities with the Legal Counsel Group, which includes Clifford Chance and Al-Jadaan Legal Consultations, to start a new phase in the journey of “Saudi Arabia”, aimed at eventually transferring its ownership and management to the private sector.
Saudi Airlines was able to overcome the transitional phase from 1999 to 2000 through prior preparation and thoughtful scientific organization. This helped to address the problem of computer problems. It helped ensure the smooth functioning of all operational and administrative operations in all sectors of the institution without any obstacles or delays.
In 2002, “SAUDIA” began implementing the “Golden Service” program, and phone numbers for reservation offices were identified for travelers on this service’s flights, and their counters were allocated to them at the three main airports (Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dammam).
The Golden Lounge has also been established for first and business-class passengers and Alfursan Gold card holders. Saudia transported 13.564,300 passengers on domestic and international flights this year.
SAUDIA also started operating its scheduled flights to Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Airport in Dawadmi. This airport was officially opened, and SAUDIA decided to ban smoking on all flights to and from the Kingdom without exception.
In 2003, “SAUDIA” obtained the European Federal Aviation Authority’s license to maintain aircraft and their equipment registered in Europe (JAA), which is the largest license granted to non-members outside the European continent.
Also, the airline began operating scheduled flights to Sharm el-Sheikh Airport in the Arab Republic of Egypt, which is the third station in Egypt, while “SAUDIA” began operating regular aircargoo flights between DHaka and Addis Abeba, including the implementation of an air-to-air manual baggage system onbothl domestic and international flights.
As of the end of this year, SAUDIA had achieved new and unprecedented achievements, including achieving a (100%) SAUdization rate in the air service sector, transporting over fourteen million passengers on both domestic and international flights, and launching an Internet-based reservation system.
During this year, Saudia carried 14,485,141 passengers on its flights, and (270) million kilograms of cargo were shipped.
In 2004, His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz inaugurated the Prince Sultan Aviation Academy, and regular cargo flights were operated to and from Hong Kong.
In February of the same year, the air freight services website was launched on the Internet, and the self-service service for air freight customers was launched, and in March of the same year, the fifth unit of Saudia catering was launched in Madinah.
In 2005, SAUDIA signed a contract with the Brazilian Embraer Company to purchase (15) Embraer 170 aircraft to support the domestic and regional flight network.
It also celebrated the transportation of 16 million passengers, as the total number of passengers reached 16 million and 800 thousand at the end of the year. In addition, direct cargo flights were operated to Shanghai in China.
On March 28, 2009, SAUDIA launched its new flights to its three stations in India (Lucknow, Bangalore, and Kazikod) (Calicut). In the same year, the first direct international flight was launched from Abha Regional Airport to Cairo.
Also in 2009, the “SAUDIA” private airline began operating flights inside and outside the Kingdom to serve businesses and corporate executives. Its fleet in its first phase consists of (10) aircraft, including (6) American-made (Hawker) aircraft with a capacity of (6) seats for medium distances. The term covers the Gulf region and the Middle East.
This is in addition to (4) advanced French-made Falcon (7X) aircraft, with a capacity of (14) seats, which are intended for long-haul distances, covering Europe, Asia, and the United States of America. The number is expected to reach 40 aircraft by the end of 2020.
Recently, SAUDIA celebrated the 75th anniversary of the launch of its first international flight to Cairo.
The celebration, which was attended by many ministers, senior officials, and dignitaries from the two countries, began with the playing of the republican anthems of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
At the forefront of the audience were Lieutenant-General Muhammad Abbas Helmy, Minister of Aviation, Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Saudi Ambassador to Cairo Osama bin Ahmed Naqli, and several heads and owners of tourism and aviation companies in the two countries and the Middle East.
In his speech, Mr. Ibrahim Al-Omar, Director General of the General Organization of Saudi Airlines, reviewed the development witnessed by the airline at all stages and how it has achieved the five-star category worldwide according to APEX International.
Al-Omar indicated that the Kingdom will host the largest aircraft maintenance village in the Middle East and North Africa.
After the ceremony, a number of those who contributed over the past 75 years to achieving excellence and success in Saudi Airlines were honored. In addition, they honored the distinguished Saudi Airlines employees in Egyptthe Sathe Saudi Airlines management in Egypt.
For his part, Tawfiq bin Fawzan, Minister of Hajj and Umrah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, said that the historical relationship that brought together Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in which civil aviation played a role through an air bridge, formed a sign of loyalty between the two countries, pointing to cooperation with the national holding company EgyptAir.
He stressed that Egyptian-Saudi relations are exceptional and extend throughout history, looking forward to “receiving the guests of the Most Merciful from the Egyptian brothers, amid the excellent facilities provided by His Highness the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.”