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SAUDI ARABIA - Transport

Tony Douglas

CEO, Riyadh Air

Bio

Tony Douglas joined Riyadh Air as Chief Executive Officer in late 2022 to help establish Saudi Arabia’s new world-class airline set to take off on its first commercial flight in 2025. Tony oversees Riyadh Air’s mission, vision, and strategy – leading on all business and operational activities and objectives with the airline’s leadership team and Board of Directors. Further to driving Riyadh Air’s growth and development in line with the Kingdom’s ambitious goals, he leads the airline’s strategic relationships with stakeholders and government entities. He has an unrivalled industry reputation for building high-performing teams, leading massive infrastructure programs and running global organizations for value. His focus on high quality delivery, combined with his absolute focus on safety and corporate responsibility, has earned him an exemplary track record. He has held several leadership positions at Abu Dhabi Airports, Abu Dhabi Sea Ports, Laing O’Rouke, BAA, Kenwood Group, BAE Systems, the UK Ministry of Defence, Equipment and Support, and most recently at Etihad Airways, where he led the restructuring and transformation program that saw the airline improve its core operating performance by 34% in two years. He has extensive experience of working with complex corporate entities, global supply chains, the City and investment communities including local and national governments. He occupies Board positions as the Chairman of specialist UK engineering contractor Keltbray, where he has served since 2010 and was also a Board Director of Abu Dhabi Airports Company for a number of years, supporting the mandate of developing international airport growth and the development of the 700,000 sqm Midfield Terminal.

"We’re supporting KSA’s ambition to triple annual travelers to 330 million and attract 150 million tourists to the Kingdom by 2030."
TBY talks to Tony Douglas, CEO of Riyadh Air, about aviation in Saudi Arabia, an operational launch date of 2025, and applying new technology.
What role does aviation play in the diversification of the Kingdom’s Economy?

Launched in March 2023 by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Prime Minister and Chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Riyadh Air has been developed as part of the Kingdom’s National Transport and Logistics Strategy. As the largest landmass in the Arabian Peninsula and the second fastest growing economy worldwide, the Kingdom needs world-class connectivity, both for Saudi nationals and global travellers. Riyadh Air aims to become the world’s most forward-thinking carrier, embracing the best sustainability practices, elevating air travel and setting a new standard for reliability, comfort, and hospitality. The creation of a digitally-led new national airline along with developments to improve our aviation hub will act as a catalyst for many of our Vision 2030 goals. As a fully owned PIF company and part of PIF’s aviation sector portfolio companies, Riyadh Air is expected to contribute $20b to non-oil GDP growth, creating an estimated 200,000 jobs directly and indirectly.

Riyadh Air will be operational by 2025. What inspired the decision to launch Riyadh Air, and what sets it apart from other airlines in the region?

We’re supporting KSA’s ambition to triple annual travelers to 330 million and attract 150 million tourists to the Kingdom by 2030 and we’re committed to connecting people in new and better ways, we look forward to introducing the world’s most modern and sophisticated flying experience. What sets us apart is as a new start-up airline, Riyadh Air will lead the way and integrate sustainability into every area of our business, and we pledge to take no shortcuts when it comes to the environment, CSR and ESG. Riyadh has a rich history and is home to some of the most ambitious new projects in the world, including King Salman International Airport, Qiddiya, Sports Boulevard, King Salman Park, Diriyah Gate, and the New Murabba Development. KSA also boasts Diriyah’s At-Turaif, a UNESCO World Heritage site and is host to the biggest sports, cultural, and entertainment events and we look forward to bringing guests to the Kingdom to experience everything KSA has to offer.

Vision 2030 envisioned strategic guidelines for the development of tourism in KSA: attracting 100 million overnight visits per year, creating 1 million jobs in the sector, and increasing the tourism sector’s contribution to the national GDP to 10%. How is Riyadh Air positioned to enable the activation of KSA’s Tourism industry and to elevate the position of Saudi Arabia within the global tourism map?

Riyadh Air will play a considerable role in opening our Kingdom to the world for many more people to enjoy our hospitality, warmth and beautiful tourist sites. We will serve as a catalyst for the National Transport and Logistics Strategy and help realize its aviation sector goals by optimizing the Kingdom’s strategic location connecting the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe and boost the competitiveness of national airlines internationally to fulfil Vision 2030 goals. As a key part of the Saudi aviation ecosystem, Riyadh Air will facilitate the growth and diversification of the Kingdom’s economy and create new job opportunities directly and indirectly.

In terms of fleet composition, what types of aircraft does Riyadh Air plan to operate and how do you envision this contributing to the airline’s growth strategy?

Earlier this year we signed an agreement with The Boeing Company that includes 39 confirmed 787-9 Dreamliners and options for further 33 additional airplanes. Our new 787-9 airplanes will serve as a foundation for our worldwide operations, as we build a wider network and connect our guests to Saudi Arabia and many destinations around the world. The 787-9 Dreamliner model is manufactured with environmental impact considerations in mind, including CO2 emissions, fuel efficiency and noise regulations. The aircraft reduces CO2 emissions by 20 – 30% with a 60% noise reduction. We are also in advanced talks to buy a significant number of narrow-body jets.

How does Riyadh Air prioritize sustainability and what measures have been taken to ensure environmentally friendly operations?

Riyadh Air is fully committed to applying global best sustainability and safety practices in the aviation industry and we are fully aware of our responsibility towards the environment. Since launching Vision 2030 in 2016, the Kingdom has taken decisive steps towards a more sustainable future. This is embodied by the Saudi Green Initiative (SGI), which sets out key objectives to offset and reduce emissions, increase the Kingdom’s use of clean energy, and address climate change towards the Kingdom’s goal of achieving Net Zero by 2060. At Riyadh Air, we are conscious of our environmental impact and committed to contributing to the Kingdom’s sustainability goals and adopting world-class sustainability and safety practices. We are also committed to UNSDG principles, SAF and other environmental fuels deployment and to Vision 2030 and SGI to increase the use of clean energy and address climate change.

Can you shed some light on How Riyadh Air will pioneer new technologies and innovations and apply them to its daily operations?

The new airline will be at the cutting edge of technology enabling digital innovation at every guest touchpoint while offering an exceptional guest experience with an authentic, warm Saudi hospitality at its heart. The entire guest experience – from booking to arrival of destination – will feature state-of-the-art technology, facilitating seamless travel.
Could you provide an overview of Riyadh Air’s target market and the specific customer segments you aim to cater to?
We aim to fly to over 100 destinations around the world by 2030. We will share further information in due course around the exact destinations that Riyadh Air will be flying to but what we do have is a strategic position in the world and can offer connectivity to Africa, Asia and Europe.

As part of Riyadh Air’s long-term vision, what are your plans for partnerships or alliances with other airlines to strengthen the network and improve connectivity?

Recently we have signed a series of Strategic Memorandum of Understanding several entities signifying major milestones in the preparation for operations of Riyadh Air in 2025.

Finally, what key milestones or goals have you set in your agenda in the next year, and how do you plan to achieve them?

We’ve already completed several defining milestones, as well as launching our dual-livery at the Paris and Dubai Airshows. We’ve been encouraged by the interest from across the aviation ecosystem and expect to make some exciting announcements in the coming months both in the Kingdom and around the world. We’ve received around 1 million applications from people wanting to be a part of the Riyadh Air story and we intend to recruit our first intake of cabin crew by the end of 2024 with the first of those joining in Q1 next year 2024.

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