Qatar’s national carrier will branch out into the Saudi Arabian aviation market later this year with the launch of a new airline, Al Maha Airways, according to media reports.
Al Maha – which means “oryx” in Arabic – will initially focus on major domestic routes within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
It is slated to begin operations “any time between the middle to the third quarter of this year,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker told Reuters in an interview at the Bahrain Air Show last week. That puts the launch date between April and September of 2014.
The airline will sport the Qatar Airways oryx logo, but it will be in green instead of maroon, to match Saudi Arabia’s national colors.
Bloomberg reports that the airline will launch with a fleet of 10 Airbus aircraft. Al Maha will eventually fly 50 narrow and wide-body Airbus airplanes, using a mixture of the airline’s existing stock and some leased aircraft, according to Al Baker:
“Keeping in mind that we have around 350 aircraft on order, we don’t have to shop for anything,” Al Baker said. “The only thing is that in the interim we may have to lease airplanes until we get our brand new aircraft delivered.”
A CEO for Al Maha has been appointed, and the airline’s routes will initially focus on major cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh, he added.
It is unclear whether the airline will recruit entirely new staff for its KSA operation, or whether it will take from its existing workforce in Doha.
Qatar Airways has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Saudi Arabia announced its intention to expand its domestic aviation market in 2012, inviting foreign airlines to bid for the right to operate within KSA, not just into and out of the country.
They will join national carrier Saudi Airlines and National Air Services NAS in catering to a growing domestic market boosted by population growth and higher incomes.
According to aviation analysts Anna Aero, passenger traffic at the country’s four main airports — Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Madinah — has grown by over 10 percent each year since 2003.
Originally expected to begin operations in early 2014, Al Maha has been delayed due to concerns about price caps for domestic flights and fuel subsidies for the kingdom’s own airlines.
However, Al Baker has told Reuters that “a compromise has been accepted” on these two issues, paving the way for the airline’s launch.