Saudi Arabian Airlines needs at least 35 new aircraft to beef up its domestic fleet and meet growing demand, said Abdullah Al-Ajhar, executive vice president for public relations. He said the Saudi travel market faces a shortage of two million seats, and added that the operation of domestic flights by Qatar Airways and Gulf Air would fill the gap.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has already licensed the two Gulf airlines to operate flights to domestic airports.
"We don't have much information about the two airlines but we have learned from GACA that they would use 20 aircraft for domestic flights," Al-Ajhar said.
GACA has offered to give cheap fuel to the two airlines to start domestic flights quickly. According to GACA, there is a 19 percent increase in domestic passengers.
The Council of Ministers recently urged the national carrier to increase the number of its domestic flights and raise the number of seats to all destinations.
" Saudia should continue its efforts to develop its technical and service capabilities so as to provide distinguished services to win passenger satisfaction," the Cabinet said.
Al-Ajhar said the Cabinet directive would encourage Saudia to mobilize all its capabilities to increase the number of flights and expand seat capacity.
"We have transported 14.5 million domestic passengers in 2012 and the figure is expected to reach 15.5 million this year," he said.
Saudia has purchased 90 new aircraft including Airbus and Boeing to modernize and beef up its fleet and meet marketing requirements.
"We have received 65 new planes including A330s and B777-300ERs," Al-Ajhar said.
A senior travel executive, meanwhile, emphasized the need for expanding seat capacity to meet increasing demand for domestic flights as a result of growing business and economic activities.
"We see a big demand for seats on Jeddah-Riyadh, Riyadh-Dammam and Jeddah-Dammam routes throughout the year," Alawi Aruveetil, head of sales and operations at Attar Travel, told Arab News.
He said his travel agency had not yet received any information about the domestic flights of Qatar Airways and Gulf Air.
Saudia is operating a large number of extra flights this summer.