How Riyadh Air will help to transform Saudi capital into a major commercial travel and logistics hub

Special How Riyadh Air will help to transform Saudi capital into a major commercial travel and logistics hub
Riyadh’s new 57 sq. km King Salman International Airport will have the capacity to handle 3.5 million tons of cargo, and accommodate up to 120 million travelers by 2030, and 185 million travelers by 2050. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 March 2023
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How Riyadh Air will help to transform Saudi capital into a major commercial travel and logistics hub

How Riyadh Air will help to transform Saudi capital into a major commercial travel and logistics hub
  • New airline is expected to add $20 billion to Saudi Arabia’s non-oil GDP and create more than 200,000 jobs
  • Launch follows announcement of King Salman International Airport, set to handle 120 million travelers by 2030

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has launched a new national carrier to promote tourism and diversify its economy, while transforming the Kingdom into a major regional travel and logistics hub and expanding its aviation industry.

Situated between the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe, the Kingdom’s geographical location makes Riyadh an ideal gateway for trade and commercial air travel.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the second national carrier, Riyadh Air, on Sunday, offering tourists from all over the world a chance to visit Saudi Arabia’s resorts and attractions and to explore the wider region.

RIA is expected to add $20 billion to the Kingdom’s non-oil gross domestic product, create more than 200,000 jobs, and shape the nation’s local and global aviation ecosystem. It is also likely to bring the Kingdom a step closer to its goal of attracting 100 million tourists by 2030.

Wholly owned by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, with total estimated assets of more than $620 billion, the new airline comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is fast emerging as a major tourism destination.




The PIF’s latest investments in the aviation sector aim to raise the industry’s financial sustainability and enhance its global competitiveness to achieve the goals of Saudi Vision 2030. (Supplied)

“Riyadh Air will be a world-class airline, adopting the global best sustainability and safety standards across its advanced fleet of aircraft equipped with the latest cutting-edge technology,” PIF said in a statement.

It will enable many more tourists to visit the Kingdom, while also catalyzing the Saudi National Transport and Logistics Strategy and the National Tourism Strategy by increasing air transport options, raising cargo capacity and, in turn, growing international passenger traffic, it added.

The establishment of RIA falls in line with the sovereign wealth fund’s strategy of unlocking the potential of promising local sectors to help diversify the national revenue sources beyond hydrocarbons.

Under Vision 2030, the country’s economic and social reform agenda, Saudi Arabia aims to more than triple annual traffic to 330 million passengers by the end of the decade. It also wants to move up to 5 million tons of cargo each year.

The crown prince in November announced the masterplan for Riyadh’s new King Salman International Airport, which will span 57 sq. km, have the capacity to handle 3.5 million tons of cargo, accommodate up to 120 million travelers by 2030, and 185 million travelers by 2050. The capacity of Riyadh’s existing airport is around 35 million travelers.




As Saudi Arabia sets its eyes on attracting 100 million tourists by 2030, Riyadh Air will likely bring the Kingdom a step closer to achieving this goal. (Supplied)

At the launch of the National Transport and Logistics Strategy in June 2021, the crown prince said the Kingdom aims to move into fifth place globally in terms of the number of transit passengers, increase the number of international destinations served by the country to more than 250, and to establish a new national air carrier.

RIA and King Salman International Airport are among the PIF’s latest investments in the aviation sector, aimed at raising the industry’s financial sustainability and enhancing its global competitiveness to achieve the goals of Vision 2030.

According to Dr. Abdullah Al-Maghlouth, a member of the Saudi Economic Association, the launch of a new carrier has been under discussion for some time.

“The talk about a new aviation company began in 2021 as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s 2030 plan to reduce the country’s dependence on oil as a source of income,” Al-Maghlouth told Arab News.

“These active moves will contribute to empowering these sectors, building partnerships with the local private sector, and ultimately add to diversifying the country’s economy and its sources of income.”

INNUMBERS

100+ global destinations served by the new airline.

200,000 jobs expected to be created.

$20bn contribution to Kingdom’s non-oil GDP.

Saudi Arabia’s investments in the aviation industry comes as the sector emerges from the massive disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns and travel bans halted commercial air travel, costing airlines billions in lost revenues.

According to the International Air Transport Association, the global airline industry will return to profitability this year, with airlines expected to post a small net profit of $4.7 billion — a 0.6 percent net profit margin. It is the first profit since 2019 when industry net profits were $26.4 billion.

The global passenger business is expected to generate revenues of $522 billion this year, with demand reaching 85.5 percent of 2019 levels over the course of 2023 — surpassing the 4 billion mark for the first time since 2019, with 4.2 billion travelers expected to fly.

Cargo markets, meanwhile, are expected to come under increased pressure this year with revenues of $149.4 billion — $52 billion less than 2022, but still $48.6 billion stronger than 2019.

Middle East carriers are expected to post a profit of $268 million in 2023, with passenger demand growth of 23.4 percent expected to outpace capacity growth of 21.2 percent, signaling a thirst for more investment.

“The region has benefited from a certain degree of re-routing resulting from the war in Ukraine, and more significantly so from the pent-up travel demand using the region’s extensive global networks as international travel markets reopened,” the International Air Transport Association said in a recent annual assessment.

Saleh Al-Jasser, Saudi Arabia’s minister of transport and logistic services, said the launch of RIA represents a new dawn for the future of air transport.

He said in a statement: “Saudi Arabia is witnessing a number of giant aviation projects that are the biggest of their kind in the history of aviation in the Kingdom.”

Such projects will reinforce Saudi Arabia’s position as a global aviation and logistics hub, in line with the country’s National Transport and Logistics Strategy, which the crown prince launched to transform the Kingdom into a hub connecting Asia, Africa, and Europe.




Under the country’s economic and social reform agenda, Saudi Arabia aims to more than triple annual traffic to 330 million passengers by the end of the decade. (Supplied)

The Kingdom’s busiest international airport is currently in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, welcoming millions of Muslims performing the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages each year.

Speaking to Al-Arabiya, the transport minister said RIA would complement the work of the Kingdom’s other national carrier, Saudia, which operates from Jeddah.

Al-Jasser said: “Riyadh Air will connect Riyadh with the rest of the world, while Saudia, which is operating from King Abdulaziz International Airport, will be focusing more on connecting Jeddah with the world. This way, the execution procedures of the National Transport and Logistics Strategy will match up with that of the civil aviation in the Kingdom.”

Commenting on how the launch of RIA would align with his ministry’s plans to expand Saudi airports, Al-Jasser said the King Salman International Airport would be one of the world’s biggest.

“Terminals 3 and 4 at the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh were opened, and these expansion plans will continue until the King Salman International Airport is fully operational,” he said.

Appearing on Asharq Now, the newly appointed CEO of Riyadh Air, Tony Douglas, a veteran in the aviation industry with four decades of experience in transportation and logistics, called the launch “a momentous day in the history of commercial aviation.”




 Tony Douglas, CEO of Riyadh Air. (Supplied)

“The crown prince has pronounced the establishment of a new national carrier. It is incredible because our brand, Riyadh Air, obviously connects with the capital city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Douglas, adding that the airline would be “serving the nation within two years.”

He added: “We will probably see very shortly the announcement of our first aircraft order, and I think that will signal the scale and the intent that sits behind the new national carrier. We look to take delivery of our first wide-body aircraft, long-range aircraft in early 2025.”

 


Saudi Arabia leads Arab condemnation of targeting of civilians in northern Gaza

People mourn at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, over the body of a Palestinian killed.
People mourn at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, over the body of a Palestinian killed.
Updated 01 March 2024
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Saudi Arabia leads Arab condemnation of targeting of civilians in northern Gaza

People mourn at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, over the body of a Palestinian killed.
  • Israeli troops fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza City on Thursday, witnesses said
  • More than 100 people were killed in the chaos, bringing the death toll since the start of the Israel-Hamas war to more than 30,000

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia strongly condemned and denounced the targeting of defenseless civilians in the northern Gaza Strip, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.

Israeli troops fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza City on Thursday, witnesses said.

More than 100 people were killed in the chaos, bringing the death toll since the start of the Israel-Hamas war to more than 30,000, according to health officials.

The ministry affirmed the Kingdom’s categorical rejection of international humanitarian law violations by any party and under any pretext.

The Kingdom renewed its call on the international community to take a firm stance by making Israel respect international humanitarian law, immediately open safe humanitarian corridors, allow the evacuation of the injured, and enable the delivery of relief aid and medical equipment without restrictions to mitigate the humanitarian catastrophe and prevent an escalation of it.

The Kingdom also repeated its call for an immediate ceasefire to prevent further innocent civilian casualties.

The UAE on Thursday also strongly condemned the military targeting thousands of Palestinians in Gaza Strip who were awaiting the arrival of humanitarian aid and called for an independent and transparent investigation into the incident, while demanding accountability for those responsible, Emirates News Agency reported.

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “deep concern about the escalating humanitarian catastrophe” in the Gaza Strip, which threatened to claim more innocent civilian lives.

It also emphasized that the immediate priority was to halt the escalation of military operations and establish an immediate ceasefire.

The ministry reiterated the UAE's position, which calls for the protection of innocent civilians and the facilitation of immediate, safe, long-term, and unhindered delivery of relief and humanitarian aid.

It also emphasized the importance of preventing a regional spillover, which could lead to further violence, tension, and instability.

The ministry urged the international community to support all efforts to achieve a comprehensive and just peace based on a two-state solution that included an independent Palestinian state.

Kuwait also denounced Israel’s actions, labeling them a “war crime”, Kuwait News Agency reported.

The country’s foreign ministry reiterated Kuwait's call for an immediate ceasefire and unimpeded access to humanitarian aid in the Strip as well as its unequivocal rejection of Israel's systematic targeting of innocent civilians.

The ministry also urged the international community, and the UN Security Council, to provide protection to the Palestinian people as well as humanitarian workers operating in the Palestinian territories.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the deadly incident, and United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the events “need to be investigated.”


The Roman legionaries who pushed into Arabia all the way to Mada’in Salih

The Roman legionaries who pushed into Arabia all the way to Mada’in Salih
Updated 01 March 2024
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The Roman legionaries who pushed into Arabia all the way to Mada’in Salih

The Roman legionaries who pushed into Arabia all the way to Mada’in Salih
  • A British Museum exhibition showcases the lives of people who formed one of the most famous armed forces in the world
  • In the late 2nd century, a detachment of Third Cyrenean Legion was deployed to the conquered Nabataean town of Hegra

LONDON: Anyone who has watched the 2000 movie “Gladiator” will have a vivid, if not necessarily wholly accurate, idea about what life must have been like for the legendary legionaries who imposed Rome’s will upon much of the Mediterranean and beyond for half a millennium.

In the movie, Russell Crowe plays Maximus Decimus Meridius, a Roman general who falls victim to imperial politics after defeating the Germanic tribes of northern Europe. Betrayed, he ends up having to fight for his life as a gladiator in the Colosseum.

But as a new exhibition at the British Museum in London makes clear, life for the soldiers of Rome between about 30 BCE and 476 CE was not all about bloody battles with marauding barbarians.

FASTFACT

• The exhibition, ‘Legion: Life in the Roman army,’ can be viewed at the British Museum in London until June 23.

“The story of the Roman army is more than just pitched battles and war,” said Sir Mark Jones, interim director of the British Museum.

The exhibition, entitled “Legion: Life in the Roman army,” “is a chance to show different perspectives and showcase the lives of the men, women, and children who formed one of the most famous armed forces in the world.”

The exhibition features 200 fascinating artefacts, “iconic Roman military objects alongside contemporary evidence of the real lives of men, women, and children in forts and frontiers across the empire.”

The world’s only intact legionary shield, unearthed at the site of the ancient city of Dura-Europos, on the banks of the Euphrates in Syria. (Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery)

These include the world’s only known intact legionary shield, on loan Yale, the oldest and most complete classic Roman segmental body armor, recently excavated on a battlefield at Kalkriese in Germany; a cavalry mask helmet found in England; and a dragon standard unearthed in Germany.

But as fascinating as the exhibition is, it fails to tell the story of the legionaries who pushed further south into Arabia than many have previously realized — a story revealed by the discovery and excavation over the past 15 years by a joint French-Saudi archaeological team of a fortified camp on the very edge of the Roman empire.

The Roman historian Strabo described a disastrous expedition that penetrated as far south as modern-day Yemen in 25-24 BCE, but no archaeological evidence of this has been found, despite the reported loss of the large force led by Aelius Gallus, a Roman general from Egypt.

A copper alloy Roman legionary helmet from the British Museum exhibition. (Photo credit: British Museum)

The tale told by the stones and inscriptions at Hegra is the story of the men of Legio III Cyrenaica — the Third Cyrenean Legion. Thought to have been founded in Egypt by Mark Antony, in the early first century BCE the legion was transferred to the newly established Roman frontier province of Arabia, created after the annexation of the Nabataean Kingdom in 106 AD.

Here, it was based at Bosra, in the south of modern-day Syria. But at some point in the later 2nd century, a detachment of the legion was dispatched to police the conquered Nabataean town of Hegra, known in modern times as Mada’in Salih, which today is a UNESCO World Heritage site north of the Saudi town of AlUla.

There, a fort was built on the plateau on the southern edge of the town, in the lee of a hill on which a citadel was also constructed.

The first evidence of the presence of Roman troops emerged slowly, in inscriptions on stones used for building first found in the vicinity of Hegra as early as the 1970s.

Part of the southern perimeter wall of the Roman fort at Hegra. (Photo credit: Zbigniew T. Fiema)

“These found in the Hegra fort and by the southeast gate of the town could be identified as commemorative inscriptions left by still living soldiers,” said Zbigniew Fiema, an archaeologist from the University of Helsinki who is part of the Saudi-French Mada’in Salih Archaeological Project.

“The epigraphic customs of antiquity were characterized by something which we nowadays can identify with Facebook practices, because they often present simple yet informative messages — ‘Hello, I am here; I have done this and that.’

“The preservation of someone's name through an inscription was very important in antiquity. Also, ancient inscriptions are often invocations to deities, thanking or asking for protection.”

Written in Greek or Lartin, more than 14 inscriptions have been found, some of which bear witness to the presence of soldiers from Legio III Cyrenaica.

Several of the men who recorded their names for posterity describe themselves as “stationarii,” soldiers whose duties would have included monitoring travelers coming and going through the gates of Hegra, acting as a police force and maintaining highway security on what would have been an important stop on the imperial postal and transport system in Arabia.

Hegra (Mada’in Salih) monumental inscription dedicated to Imperator Marcus Aurelius in the Roman province of Arabia. (Wikimedia Commons)

Many of the inscriptions appear to be giving thanks to Hammon, a god worshipped in Libya and Upper Egypt and assimilated with the Roman deity Jupiter for successfully completed missions.

Some are etched into stone. But one of the longest is a Latin inscription painted in black, which somehow has survived, having endured the elements for over 1,800 years.

It begins: “To Our Jupiter Best and Greatest Hammon, and for the health of Our Lords the Emperors, and to the holy goddess Minuthis and the Genius of the Third Legion Cyrenaica, good fortune!”

It names five men — “Lollius Germanicianus the senatorial legate … Bennius Plautianus centurion and the soldiers’ friend … Flavius Saianus decurion, an excellent man, Flavius Nicomachus soldier of the legion, from the centuria of Aurelius Marcus, and Antonius Maximus Eros, from the centuria of Ancharius Secundus, stationarii” — all of whom “give thanks to the genius of the gate.”

Some inscriptions are much shorter: “Remember Komodos!” beseeches one Greek inscription, found on a stone reused in a gateway built in the late 2nd or early 3rd century. An inscription on another re-used building block reads “Remember Ulpis, the camel-rider!”

A fearsome dragon standard found in Germany. (Photo credit: Koblenz Landesmuseum)

The fort at which some of these men would have been stationed — built to a standard Roman army design and complete with perimeter walls, barracks, two gates, corner towers and possibly a small bathhouse, or heated room — is thought to have been one of the earliest military structures in Roman Arabia.

Excavated over several seasons since 2015, the fort has yielded a wealth of information and artifacts testifying to the Roman presence in Arabia, including numerous ceramics, often from the Mediterranean, bronze artefacts, more than 150 Roman and Nabataean coins, and pieces of what are thought to be horse harnesses and armor.

Also found were the butchered bones of animals that provided the garrison with meat — cattle, camel, donkey, horse, sheep and goat.

What isn’t clear is where the Roman soldiers were from.

“Some names indicate that their bearers originated in the Roman East, for example Syria, but some of these soldiers could have come from all over the world,” said Dr Fiema.

“We really do not know. However, since the units mentioned in these inscriptions are often attested for a long time as stationed in the Roman East, it will be reasonable to assume that the soldiers were often locals, drafted or volunteered in the Eastern provinces.”

A map of the Roman Empire shortly after Trajan's conquests of the kingdom of Nabataea, including Hegra in the interior. The province was soon reduced back to the line of limes Arabicus. (Wikimedia Commons: Tataryn)

The main significance of the discovery of the Roman fort at Hegra is “the solid confirmation of what we have suspected before that this part of the Hijaz was definitely a part of the Roman province of Arabia, and thus of the Roman Empire, and that the Roman presence was not ephemeral.

“We know that the 2nd century was a time of particularly intensive Roman activities in Arabia and in the Red Sea region. Also, at this point of time, we know that the Roman military presence in that part of Arabia extended at least until the end of the 3rd century.”

Prior to the discovery of the fort at Hegra, it was thought that the legions had advanced no further south into Arabia than the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.

“Scholarly hypotheses postulating that the northwest Hijaz was a part of the empire existed already in the late 20th century,” said Fiema.

“But the discovery of the Roman fort, and the Latin inscriptions, in Hegra have indeed confirmed the validity of these early hypotheses.

A cavalry helmet in the form of an Amazon. (Photo credit: British Museum)

“Unfortunately, most of the maps of the Roman Empire, which are published in school textbooks and scientific works, still show the border of the empire coterminous with that of the modern state of Jordan.”

So far, it is not known exactly when the Roman legions abandoned the Hijaz, or why.

Fiema has little doubt that archaeological evidence that the Romans advanced even further south into Arabia, as testified to by Strabo, remains to be unearthed.

“One should expect that intensive archaeological exploration of the Arabian Peninsula should bring more information on the Roman presence.”

There is some evidence that Roman legions may even have made it as far south as the Farasan Islands in the Red Sea off southwest Saudi Arabia.

 

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world
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Jazan’s Al-Qahar Mountains once underwater, study reveals

Jazan’s Al-Qahar Mountains once underwater, study reveals
Updated 29 February 2024
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Jazan’s Al-Qahar Mountains once underwater, study reveals

Jazan’s Al-Qahar Mountains once underwater, study reveals

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Qahar mountains, about 130 km from Jazan in the Kingdom’s southwest, at one time formed the seabed in the region, geological studies have revealed.

Research carried out by Zaraq bin Issa Al-Faifi, a professor at Jazan University’s Department of Biology and College of Science, discovered fossils and structures from marine creatures, such as stone corals, showing the mountains had been underwater for hundreds of millions of years.

Sand and limestone formations are part of the sedimentary layers of various colors, Al-Faifi said. 

He highlighted the need for additional research on estimates of the time period, and the state of Al-Qahar Mountains during that era, and urged geologists and other experts to delve deeper into this section of the Sarawat Mountains.

Al-Qahar Mountains rise 2,000 meters above sea level, and are home to a wide variety of geological features, including striking conical shapes, distinctive sedimentary and limestone rock formations, deep canyons, and steep slopes. The mountains now contain several inhabited towns and cities.

Ancient artefacts, such as inscriptions and drawings, add to the mountains’ attractiveness for history buffs and mountaineers. 

The Saudi Geological Survey has said that the presence of fossils in Al-Qahar Mountains and other ancient environments can be proven through the study of sedimentary rocks and the fossils they contain.
 


Saudi economy minister receives WEF’s Borge Brenda

Saudi economy minister receives WEF’s Borge Brenda
Updated 29 February 2024
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Saudi economy minister receives WEF’s Borge Brenda

Saudi economy minister receives WEF’s Borge Brenda

Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Al-Ibrahim hosted President of World Economic Forum Borge Brenda in the Kingdom.
“We discussed the latest developments in the global economy and progress on several projects between the Kingdom and the forum as part of our strategic partnership, in addition to the preparations underway to hold the World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development this April in Riyadh,” the minister tweeted on X on Thursday.


Heritage tent set up on historic Saudi pilgrimage route

Heritage tent set up on historic Saudi pilgrimage route
Updated 29 February 2024
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Heritage tent set up on historic Saudi pilgrimage route

Heritage tent set up on historic Saudi pilgrimage route

RIYADH: A traditional cultural tent has been set up at Al-Ashar Pond, one of the largest and most significant historic sites along the Zubaida Trail pilgrimage route.

Situated in the heart of the Nafud desert, approximately 60 km south of Laynah heritage village in Rafha governorate, the Imam Turki bin Abdullah Royal Nature Reserve Development Authority initiative is part of the ongoing Zubaida Trail Winter Festival being held in Laynah.

Cultural sessions will feature discussions and talks led by specialists in historical and natural heritage, with the participation of several Saudi universities, the Heritage Commission, and the Saudi Geological Survey, along with workshops and practical demonstrations.

Al-Ashar Pond is one of the stops along Zubaida Trail (the Kufic Hajj route), completed during the reign of the Abbasid caliph, Harun Al-Rashid.

The site comprises the remains of 30 separate architectural units of various sizes and functions, arranged in a single row extending for approximately 3 km and around 600 meters wide.

The prominent feature of the station is its 65 m x 52 m rectangular pond with a depth of around 5 m. Inside, it contains stairs along its northern and southern walls.