Qatar’s national carrier is expected to finally begin operating its new venture in Saudi Arabia by the end of this year, according to an official with Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).
That’s almost two years behind schedule, but months ahead of the last estimated beginning date.
Al Maha Airways, along with fellow fledgling airline Saudi Gulf (a spinoff of Bahrain-based Gulf Air), were awarded the right to operate within the kingdom in December 2012, as part of a plan to meet rising domestic aviation demand there.
The carriers were due to start operations in September 2014, with initial routes to include Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Madinah, Abha and Qassim, but hit licensing problems last year.
Earlier this year, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said the airline may not be up and running until summer 2016, adding: “We expect to have a six-to-18-month waiting period before the operation starts.”
Al Maha – which means “oryx” in Arabic – will sport the Qatar Airways oryx logo, but it will be in green instead of maroon, to match Saudi Arabia’s national colors.
Bloomberg has previously reported that the airline will launch with a fleet of 10 Airbus aircraft, although the airline has not yet disclosed its plans for staffing of the new airline.
Speaking to Saudi daily Al Madina, GACA Director General Sulaiman Abdullah Al Hamdan this week attributed the ongoing delays to the airlines, saying they were not meeting the regulations required to receive a license.
He added that a number of permits have yet to be completed.
When the airlines began operating, Al Hamdan said that no prices would be set by the GACA.
“There is no intention or plan that confirms distributing specific locations (in Saudi Arabia) on the airlines, but the competition will be open to fly passengers anywhere in the kingdom,” he said.
Currently, two carriers in Saudi Arabia offer domestic flights, Saudi Airlines and budget company flynas.
According to Al Madina, the two new carriers are expected to help fill demand in the country by boosting capacity some 14 percent.
The newspaper cited a GACA official as saying that last year, there was a shortage of two million seats in the domestic market.