A new, multibillion-dollar airline that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is funding in an effort to modernize the Kingdom’s tourist industry and compete with airlines like Emirates and Qatar Airways has suffered a significant setback with the abrupt departure of its new CEO.
Tony Douglas, the former CEO of Etihad Airways, departed Abu Dhabi in October amid rising rumours that the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) was seeking him out to lead a brand-new airline based in Riyadh and known as RIA.
However, unnamed insiders close to the PIF’s inner workings have claimed to Arabian Business that Douglas is no longer working on the initiative. Despite rumours that the wealth fund is ready to spend $30 billion to launch the airline quickly, the PIF has revealed a few specifics regarding RIA.
Douglas has only stated that he is leaving Etihad Airways to “pursue an opportunity elsewhere” and has not publicly addressed claims that he will be in charge of the RIA project. A short time afterwards, Antonoaldo Neves, a former TAP executive and board member, took over for Douglas at the airline.
Douglas oversaw an initiative to drastically reduce expenses and change the airline’s strategy during his time at Etihad in order to return the company to profitability. Despite the pandemic’s significant impacts, Douglas’ strategy was extraordinarily successful, and the airline declared a core operating profit of US $296 million in the first half of 2022.
RIA is an essential component of Saudi Arabia’s long-term modernisation ambitions, which will see the country’s economy change and bring in millions of visitors in the years to come.
The airline will operate from a brand-new airport designed by Foster + Partners, which can carry about 185 million passengers annually. The current national flag carrier, Saudia Airlines, will base most of its operations in Jeddah and cater primarily to travellers doing the Umrah.
The success stories in the region, such Emirates and Qatar Airways, will serve as models for RIA. Male passengers may wear shorts, and alcohol will be offered on board.