KSA startup carrier pledges 'low fares'

Sama, Saudi Arabia’s first independent scheduled airline, aims to begin flights in Summer of this year.

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By  David Ingham Published  March 5, 2006

Sama, Saudi Arabia’s first independent scheduled airline, aims to begin flights in Summer of this year. The carrier will initially focus on the domestic Saudi market and promises to significantly undercut existing fares on these routes. “We will publish details of our fares shortly, but our customers can look forward to highly attractive fares at levels significantly lower than they currently pay,” said Sudeep Ghai, chief commercial officer, Sama (which means ‘to fly high’ or ‘be elevated’ in Arabic). “We are confident that the great service and on-board product that we will offer alongside these low fares will be highly attractive to our target customer base. We would urge people to try us out and find out for themselves.” The domestic Saudi aviation market is seen as a significant untapped opportunity. There are 26 commercial airports in Saudi Arabia and the country’s busiest route, Jeddah-Riyadh, saw 1,123,000 passenger movements in 2004. However, the market has been served by only one airline, the flag carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines. Some high profile individiuals and institutions certainly seem to believe in the market’s potential. The startup carrier is chaired by Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, a licensed pilot and sky diving enthusiast, whose business interests include Harvey Nichols Saudi Arabia and Arabian Printing and Publishing House. Sama’s institutional investors include Olayan, Saudi Industrial Services Co and Sarah Development Company Ltd. Mango Aviation Partners, a UK consultancy specialising in no frills aviation, is assisting with the launch. Several of its own partners will be seconded to the airline during its startup phase. Mango is supplying Andrew Cowen, formerly of Go and British Airways, as Sama’s chief executive officer; Michael Coltman, formerly of Go and easyJet, as chief operating officer; and Sudeep Ghai, formerly of Virgin Nigeria and British Airways, as chief commercial officer. Mango’s brief is to establish the airline, including obtaining licenses and operating approvals, and recruit a management team. Wherever qualified candidates are available, Saudi nationals will be recruited and the airline expects to meet any mandatory Saudisation targets. The airline says it will, ‘most definitely’ be recruiting women, although it isn’t clear whether that will include cabin crew. “We welcome applications from all suitably qualified women but can assure anyone that is worried about it that all working arrangements will be in accordance with legal and religious guidelines,” says Ghai. Although Sama will initially focus on Saudi Arabia, Ghai confirmed that the airline will begin flights to other countries in the longer term. The company’s stated objective is to be, “the preferred and most successful low fares airline in the Middle East.” Sama will use leased Boeing 737-300 aircraft in an all-economy configuration. The airline expects to create around 350 new jobs by the end of 2006, the vast majority of whom are expected to be Saudis. In its press material, Sama says that it has taken its inspiration from Southwest Airlines, the American pioneer of ‘no frills’ aviation. “We are adopting that same business model,” said Ghai, which hints at charging passengers for on board services. “By a ruthless and continuing control of costs, Sama can offer lower fares than traditional carriers to anyone and everyone who wants to fly. The airline will sell tickets through the internet, telesales and travel agents. The only major details that remain to be revealed about Sama are destinations and fares.

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