Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization

Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization
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Operating to 90 destinations in 36 countries, Saudia has a number of code-sharing agreements and partnerships with airlines such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines. (File)
Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization
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Ibrahim AlKoshy
Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization
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Operating to 90 destinations in 36 countries, Saudia has a number of code-sharing agreements and partnerships with airlines such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines. (File)
Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization
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Operating to 90 destinations in 36 countries, Saudia has a number of code-sharing agreements and partnerships with airlines such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines. (File)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization

Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization
  • Kingdom’s flag carrier gearing up for resumption of international passenger travel on May 17

RIYADH: A few minutes into our interview and it was clear that the CEO of Saudia, the Kingdom’s state-owned flag carrier, wanted to set the record straight about the aviation sector during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Many people believe that since flying has been reduced, we (the airline industry) have just been able to relax and take a breather,” said Capt. Ibrahim AlKoshy.

“Talking to everybody in the airline industry, it’s been one of the busiest times for anyone … We took that challenge as an opportunity to actually come out stronger.”

The aviation industry has certainly had its challenges. In February, the regional president of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) told Argaam that airlines in Saudi Arabia incurred $9.6 billion in losses as passenger traffic fell by 70 percent.

The latest figures released by IATA earlier this month showed that for Middle Eastern airlines, demand in February 2021 was down 83.1 percent compared to the same month in 2019.




Capt. Ibrahim AlKoshy
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Flights were grounded in the Kingdom in March 2020. While domestic traffic resumed at the end of May last year, and Saudia is gearing up for international flights to restart on May 17, AlKoshy said it will still be some time before a recovery to pre-pandemic levels.

“Our estimates are pretty much in line with IATA and other airlines because we’re sharing data on market recovery,” he added.

“We don’t see that full recovery taking place in international (passenger traffic) until 2024. The remainder of 2021, we do see a strong domestic (and) slight improvement in international … It seems people are still a bit cautious about long-distance traveling.”

A survey in December found that 46 percent of Saudi respondents are looking forward to traveling internationally once restrictions are lifted.

Saudia is putting everything in place to help inspire confidence in travelers to feel safe getting on an aircraft again.

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Operating to 90 destinations in 36 countries, Saudia has a number of code-sharing agreements and partnerships with airlines such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines.

AlKoshy said on April 19, Saudia will trial a digital travel and health pass developed by IATA, and has implemented around 50 COVID-related health initiatives on its flights, resulting in it being awarded Diamond status by the Airline Passenger Experience Association for its efforts to ensure the highest standards of cleanliness and sanitation across its operations. “The practices that we did at Saudia weren’t done generically. We actually hired infectious disease physicians to work with us on developing the protocols,” he added.

“We’re quite proud of how we actually put that together … It seems to have gained passenger confidence quite well.”

Rebuilding passenger confidence is important, and one of the main reasons that AlKoshy and his team have not been able to take a breather over the last year.




Operating to 90 destinations in 36 countries, Saudia has a number of code-sharing agreements and partnerships with airlines such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines. (File photo)

“It’s been a complete revisit to the strategy … We’re really looking at a lot of operational efficiencies, better utilization of all resources, aircraft crew etc., not just because of COVID-19 but it’s the right thing to do. We’ll come out much stronger on this one,” he said.

Reuters reported in December that the Kingdom’s Finance Ministry approved SR13.6 billion ($3.6 billion) for Saudia in 2019, and SR6.4 billion in the first half of 2020. AlKoshy acknowledged that like many companies during the pandemic, help from the government was needed.

While he did not get into exact figures, he said the impression that the airline is heavily government-subsidized is not accurate.

“Saudia is a state-owned airline at this stage. We’re working toward privatization, but the truth of the matter is many of the subsidies that historically people believe Saudia receives are no longer received,” he added.

“We’re operating already on our own budget. There’s been some support for staffing etc. for COVID-19, but I think it’s really important to understand that Saudia actually entered with a strong balance sheet at the beginning of this (pandemic) and we’re doing quite well. However, that’s not to say support hasn’t been received during this period. It’s due to COVID-19.”

AlKoshy forecasts that the airline will be back in the black within a few years. “What we’re looking at is … Saudia sees profitability in 2024 without question,” he said.

Privatization of state assets is a core priority for the Saudi government going forward. “Privatization is part of the plan at the Saudia group level and for the airline as well,” he said.

Last month, the airline signed an agreement worth SR11.2 billion to partially finance new aircraft orders up until mid-2024.

According to its 2020 official factsheet Saudia has 144 aircraft, but AlKoshy confirmed that there are plans for new orders.

“Saudia, when looking at its next fleet offers as well, we have our requirements. We’ll definitely be looking at the best options we have with both Boeing and Airbus,” he said. “And there’s another fleet expansion expected that we’ll be going through, so we’ll see how we can work with Boeing and Airbus. They’ve been partners with Saudia for quite a long time. It’s something we’ll look at.”

Operating to 90 destinations in 36 countries, Saudia has a number of code-sharing agreements and partnerships with airlines such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines.

“We have very strong plans to strengthen that virtual network of codeshares, possibly through joint ventures. There are many things that are being looked at. Some of them have been actioned already,” AlKoshy said.

As the airline counts down the days to May 17, he and his team will be looking forward to getting back to some form of normalization.

But, as he was keen to point out, they certainly were not resting on their laurels over the last year.

“It’s been a very challenging time for the airline industry as a whole, but we’ll come out much stronger on this one,” he said. “Saudia has very aggressive growth plans.”


Gulf Air delays jet deliveries in difficult market

Gulf Air delays jet deliveries in difficult market
Updated 2 min 11 sec ago

Gulf Air delays jet deliveries in difficult market

Gulf Air delays jet deliveries in difficult market
  • Gulf Air has previously said it was looking to delay deliveries of Airbus A320neo jets and Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners

DUBAI: Gulf Air’s chairman on Sunday said that market conditions remain difficult and that the Bahrain state carrier had reached a deal with Airbus and Boeing to delay deliveries of some new aircraft.
Flying remains at very low levels around the world as airlines struggle to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic that has left many planes grounded or flying near-empty.
“It is very difficult because you are bound by your destinations. We have the fleet. We have the crew. We would like to fly to as many as places as we can, but we have to factor in demand,” Zayed bin Rashid Al-Zayani told reporters at the Arabian Travel Market exhibition in Dubai.
The Bahraini airline has reached an agreement with Airbus and Boeing to delay aicraft that were scheduled for delivery in 2020 and 2021 by about six to nine months, he said.
Zayani, also a Bahraini government minister, did not disclose which aircraft had been delayed, but he said the airline would receive six new jets this year, twice as many as it did in 2020.
Gulf Air has previously said it was looking to delay deliveries of Airbus A320neo jets and Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.
The airline is not canceling aircraft orders, Zayani said.
Asked if Gulf Air was receiving “government support,” he replied: “who isn’t?”
The airline received 36 million dinars ($95.6 million) from the Bahrain government last year, according to a government bond prospectus seen by Reuters.


Saudi bank mortgage portfolios to expand 30 percent annually says S&P

Saudi bank mortgage portfolios to expand 30 percent annually says S&P
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudi bank mortgage portfolios to expand 30 percent annually says S&P

Saudi bank mortgage portfolios to expand 30 percent annually says S&P
  • The credit ratings agency expects mortgage portfolios in the banking sector to expand by about 30 percent annually over the next couple of years

DUBAI: Strong housing demand and the government’s commitment to meet Vision 2030 targets is expected to support Saudi credit growth over the next two years, S&P said.
The credit ratings agency expects mortgage portfolios in the banking sector to expand by about 30 percent annually over the next couple of years as total growth is expected to top 10 percent in 2021-2022.
“Our assessment of economic risk reflects our view that the Saudi Arabian economy recently started to rebound, with global economic conditions and oil markets improving and the global economy emerging from the pandemic,” S&P said in a report on Sunday. “We expect government efforts to meet Vision 2030 targets and strong demand for housing from Saudi nationals will support solid mortgage and retail loan growth.”
S&P said it expects credit costs to be elevated as the government phases out pandemic-related support packages. However the Kingdom’s central bank has consistently encouraged banks to build strong loan loss provisions, it said.
Lenders in the Kingdom also benefit from a low-cost and stable core deposit base, with limited reliance on external debt. Low cost of funds and better-than-average cost of risk have supported the banking sector’s profitability, said S&P.
“We continue to see banks’ healthy funding and liquidity profiles as a key differentiator when compared with most other banking systems in the region and globally,” it said.
Despite the jump in mortgage lending, house price growth has been muted in the Kingdom because of a strong supply pipeline and the absence of speculation.
“We expect only modest growth in prices in real terms over the next few years,” said S&P. “We also note that commercial real estate prices performed much weaker than residential ones. Changes in customer behavior and a shift toward online deliveries and more widespread remote work could put pressure on this segment of the market.”


Dubai’s Amanat profit surges on strong health unit performance

Dubai’s Amanat profit surges on strong health unit performance
Updated 16 May 2021

Dubai’s Amanat profit surges on strong health unit performance

Dubai’s Amanat profit surges on strong health unit performance
  • The Dubai-listed company saw a 449.9 percent year-on-year increase in net profit

DUBAI: Healthcare and education investment company Amanat has reported a fivefold increase in net profit to 31.5 million dirhams ($8.6 million) in the first three months of the year.
The Dubai-listed company saw a 449.9 percent year-on-year increase in net profit, as it managed to bring down its expenses by 30.7 percent.
The increase was driven by the company’s health care portfolio, with its most recent acquisition, the Cambridge Medical and Rehabilitation Center (CMRC).
The CMRC contributed up to 6.2 million dirhams to Amanat’s income from its health care investments.
“The start of 2021 we began to reap the benefits of the strategic decisions taken during 2020 and we are also taking important steps to further optimize our portfolio,” Amanat chair Hamad Alshamsi said.
Amanat’s education portfolio also delivered steady growth on the back of higher enrollments. Income from the company’s education investments in the first quarter reached up to 8.8 million dirhams — up from 2.5 million dirhams last year.
It also boosted its operational efficiency throughout the year, bringing total expenses down. Staff costs declined by 24 percent, general expenses by 42 percent, and project expenses by 78.5 percent.


Royal Caribbean cancels new cruise line from Israel over unrest

Royal Caribbean cancels new cruise line from Israel over unrest
Updated 16 May 2021

Royal Caribbean cancels new cruise line from Israel over unrest

Royal Caribbean cancels new cruise line from Israel over unrest
  • The ship will spend its inaugural season in Florida

JERUSALEM: Cruise operator Royal Caribbean is canceling a new line that had been scheduled to run from Israel to Greece and Cyprus from next month, citing regional security concerns.
The sailings out of Haifa port would have been the first for Royal Caribbean’s new ship “Odyssey of the Seas” and were intended to exploit a travel corridor being set up among the three countries for travelers vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Due to the unrest in Israel and region, Odyssey has not been able to complete the preparations required,” the company said late on Saturday in what appeared to be a reference to fighting over Gaza and tensions on Israel’s border with Lebanon.
The ship will spend its inaugural season in Florida, the statement said, adding that it “remains hopeful to return to this popular destination (Israel) with its ships in the future.”


Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit

Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit
Updated 16 May 2021

Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit

Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit
  • Dubai-listed Union Properties focused on improving key operational activities across the group

DUBAI: The developer of Motor City in Dubai has reported a 5.6 million dirhams ($1.5 million) net profit in the first quarter of 2021 – recovering from a net loss of 121.9 million dirhams in the same period last year.
Dubai-listed Union Properties focused on improving key operational activities across the group, including a significant reduction in direct and administrative costs of 6.4 percent and 14.2 percent respectively.
The group also settled a large portion of its debt, reducing finance costs by 42.1 percent year-on-year, it said in a stock exchange filing.
“We have sought out to optimize our cash flows by adopting a flexible policy to adapt to the economic changes,” board chairman Khalifa Hassan Al-Hammadi said.
He noted the UAE government’s effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped the real estate sector gradually recover from its impact.
Other UAE developers have also been seeing positive indicators during the first three months of the year, as buyers regain confidence in the country’s post-pandemic real estate market. However a glut of new homes remains to be absorbed after years of rampant construction.