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Saudia Marks Historic Flight to Saudi Arabia’s New Red Sea International Airport

The new airport is part of Saudi Arabia's ambitious plans to transform its economy and become a global leader in tourism within the next decade

by Lauren Smith

September 21, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Red Sea Global

Saudi Arabian flag carrier Saudia will be the first to operate flights to and from the new Red Sea International Airport (RSI), bringing the inaugural tourists to the Kingdom’s sprawling coastal mega-resort by the end of this year.

Red Sea Global (RSG)—the multi-project developer that is responsible for creating some of the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism destinations such as The Red Sea and Amaala—celebrated the first flight to RSI which landed on the new runway on September 21.

Photo: Courtesy of Red Sea Global

The Arab carrier has launched a twice-weekly service, with flights departing from King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Riyadh every Thursday and Saturday. The flight takes less than two hours, and the return flight to Riyadh is on the same day.

Saudia signed a memorandum of understanding with Red Sea Global, managers of the resort project, and Irish airport operator DAA International to fly the first commercial flights in and out of the airport.

The first scheduled flights to RSI will be domestic: first, regular departures from the Saudi capital, Riyadh (RUH), and then from the Kingdom’s second city, Jeddah (JED).

Photo: Courtesy of Red Sea Global

International flights will commence in 2024, and one million travelers are expected to pass through the airport by 2030.

“When the first commercial flight lands at Red Sea International, it won’t just be a point of personal pride for Red Sea Global. It will be a milestone moment for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in making that vision a reality,” said John Pagano, Group CEO of Red Sea Global.

“It is fitting, therefore, that the Kingdom’s flag carrier, Saudia, will be first to operate from our destination.”

Construction on Red Sea International Airport, designed by British Architects Foster + Partners, is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

Photo: Courtesy of Foster and Partners

The airport will serve as the gateway to the Red Sea Project, Saudi Arabia’s planned luxury tourist hub and one spoke of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious Saudi Vision 2030 project.

While the massive resort complex won’t top out until the end of the decade, three hotels will open to guests later this year: the Regis Red Sea Resort, the Nujuma Ritz Carlton Reserve, and Six Senses Southern Dunes.

When fully complete, the resort will offer 8,000 hotel rooms at 50 resorts and sprawl across 22 islands and six inland sites on the Red Sea.

Attractions include a yachting club and marina, wellness and sports facilities, artisan galleries, high-end retail stores, and fine dining. Guests will easily access stunning natural sites, including the Red Sea’s barrier reef, pristine beaches, and dormant volcanoes.

With the resort’s opening, Saudi Arabia hopes to transform itself into one of the world’s premiere tourist destinations, particularly for visitors craving both luxury and sustainability, and diversify its economy away from fossil fuels.

The project will have a zero-carbon footprint and be powered entirely by its own renewable installations, without connection to Saudi Arabia’s national grid.

Photo: Courtesy of Foster and Partners

“In 2016, His Royal Highness, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, set out a vision for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Pagano. “A vision for a thriving country, one that was recognized as a global hub, where people from all around the world would come to experience the best of Saudi culture, hospitality, and nature.”

To increase the project’s ecotourist credentials, the agreement between Saudia, Red Sea Global, and the airport managers allows the three parties to undertake joint research into Lower Carbon Aviation Fuel (LCAF) and Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) at the airport. Additionally, they’ll consider using electric vertical take-off and landing jets (eVTOL) to reduce further emissions associated with travel to the Red Sea.

Saudia Airlines 787-9 Dreamliner / Photo: Courtesy of Saudia Airlines

Last year, Saudia agreed to purchase up to 100 eVTOLs from German air taxi developer Lilium. While the jets are prototypes, Saudia aims to operate them on domestic flights eventually.

Captain Ibrahim Koshy, CEO of Saudia, said the airline is the “wings of Vision 2030.” The arrangement to fly the first flights to RSI will “strengthen our position in the Kingdom and allow us to collaborate with RSG and daa International to boost tourism and enhance the country’s standing within international aviation.”