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Riyadh Air Inks Partnership With Delta. Plus CEO Tony Douglas on Global Ambitions

Riyadh Air

Skift Take

The partnership is one of the most notable for the Saudi Arabian startup, which is looking to launch its first flights next year.

Riyadh Air announced Tuesday that it signed a preliminary agreement with Delta Air Lines, which could bolster the Saudi Arabian startup’s global presence as it looks to launch flights next year. 

Riyadh Air said the agreement would allow both airlines to expand their networks. Eventually, both airlines said they want the agreement to turn into a codeshare, which would allow them to sell each others’ flights to customers. The deal will also make Delta the exclusive North American partner for Riyadh Air. 

Delta plans to launch a nonstop service between the U.S. and Riyadh, but the timeline for those flights is currently unclear. 

This partnership is one of the most notable for the Saudi Arabian startup. Riyadh Air has also inked deals with Singapore Airlines, EgyptAir, Air China and China Eastern. 

Riyadh Air’s Global Ambitions

The startup, funded by Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund, is part of an ambitious project to boost tourism to the Middle Eastern country. Riyadh Air has yet to commence service, with CEO Tony Douglas saying that it plans to operate its first flights in summer 2025.

Douglas, previously CEO of Etihad, said at a Wings Club event in New York in June that a partnership with a North American airline was also “absolutely essential in connecting the Kingdom better to the world.” 

One of the issues for Riyadh Air has been finding a way to launch international routes in heavily slot constrained airports in Europe and North America. Douglas told Skift that Riyadh Air eventually seeks to have a presence in every major European capital and the eastern seaboard of the U.S. 

The CEO said the airline would depend on partnerships or potentially buy slots in those slot-constrained airports, which could cost millions. 

“We’re gonna look for about 100 cities internationally within the first five years,” he said. 

Another issue that could get in the way of Riyadh Air’s debut is supply chain constraints, which have created massive backlogs for plane makers Airbus and Boeing. 

But Douglas said the airline had already secured commitments from Airbus and Boeing. 

“Because we’re a start-up, we’ve got enough commitments from both of them at the moment to give us the comfort that we can go live,” Douglas said. 

Airlines Sector Stock Index Performance Year-to-Date

What am I looking at? The performance of airline sector stocks within the ST200. The index includes companies publicly traded across global markets including network carriers, low-cost carriers, and other related companies.

The Skift Travel 200 (ST200) combines the financial performance of nearly 200 travel companies worth more than a trillion dollars into a single number. See more airlines sector financial performance. 

Read the full methodology behind the Skift Travel 200.

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