SAUDI Arabian low fares operator Sama is on track to begin domestic scheduled flights across the kingdom in the next two months, the airline’s chief commercial officer said.
“Having obtained a licence from the regulator we’re on track to commence flying in Q1 2007, provided we complete the second leg of the start-up process and are granted an Air Operator Certificate. We’re in the final stages of this process presently and our team is working with the regulator,” Sudeep Singh Ghai told TTN via email.
The airline hopes to have eight aircraft in total by the end of 2007, he said, of a projected 35 craft in five years at a value of $500 million. He said it was too early to talk about financing structures, but did not rule out an IPO or partial selldown. “Saudi Arabia has 70 per cent of the GCC’s population and the largest GDP by some measure – it is increasingly attractive to investors, particularly as the GCC moves towards a common market and the desire grows to diversify away from a petrol based economy.”
Under current regulations, Sama will be restricted to the domestic market for two years provided it takes over a number of public service route obligations from Saudia, but Ghai said the airline hopes to be able to satisfy the regulatory body, the General Authority for Civil Aviation, within a year.
With 26 million people in Saudi Arabia, who have thus far had little choice of carrier, but with more players looking to break into the market, Sama hopes to build market share in three ways, he said: “by establishing a clear integrated Arab brand for an Arab consumer market that communicates simplicity, convenience, choice and value; by delivering a consistent value-for-money customer experience where customers can choose booking channels and payment methods; and providing sufficient fleet and therefore frequency and destination growth.”
Dammam will be Sama’s first operating base and more routes will be added as new aircraft join its fleet. Launch details were yet to be announced at the time of going to press.
by Keith J Fernandez