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U.S.-Saudi partnership to propel aviation growth as future brings new opportunities

JEDDAH: When US President Franklin Roosevelt presented a Douglas DC-3, a propeller-driven airline, as a gift to King Abdul Aziz in 1945, the occasion marked the starting point for the Saudi civil aviation industry .

The Kingdom’s airline, Saudi Arabian Airlines, now known as Saudia, was founded in September 1945 as a 100% government agency under the Ministry of Defence.

Nearly eight decades later, as US President Joe Biden’s flight hits the tarmac on July 16, there is a growing sense that this visit will mark the beginning of world-class commercial aviation infrastructure in the Kingdom.

Its predecessor, Donald Trump’s visit to the Kingdom in 2017, resulted in a windfall in air deals between the two countries.

Saudi Arabian Airlines, now known as Saudia, was founded in September 1945.

The event formed defense and trade deals for Boeing worth more than $50 billion, which further cemented the Boeing-Saudi Arabia partnership, according to a statement released by Boeing.

Among the agreements signed were the sale of 16 wide-body aircraft to Dammam-based carrier Saudi Gulf; the carrier then ceased operations in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The deals were struck at the Saudi US CEO Forum, where Saudi King Salman and Trump met with CEOs including Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

“I appreciate the efforts of King Salman, President Trump and his administration to support American manufacturers as we seek to grow at home and around the world,” Muilenburg said in a statement during the visit.

Face headwinds

Boeing has had a crucial presence in the Kingdom since 1962, when the national carrier took delivery of two narrow-body Boeing 720s, becoming the first airline in the Middle East to operate commercial jet aircraft.

Over the years, Saudia has taken delivery of most Boeing aircraft, including VIP aircraft. Today, the Kingdom accounts for around 70% of its business jet purchases in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The airline operated its first Boeing 747 service in 1977 when three Jumbo Jets were leased from Lebanese national carrier Middle East Airlines.

Saudia’s all-cargo flights between the Kingdom and Europe saw the introduction of American Lockheed L-1011s and Fairchild FH-27s to the region.

The U.S.-Saudi aviation relationship reached new heights when Boeing became a member of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Industrial Collaboration Program in 2019. The program facilitates local and international industrial collaboration.

The Obama-Biden administration has expanded the reach of aviation in the region. For example, GE Aviation Services, a leading US jet and turboprop engine manufacturer, signed an exclusive 10-year hardware agreement with Saudia to cover its CFM56-5B engine fleet in 2009.

Flynas, the Kingdom’s low-cost airline, uses GE engines in its A320s.

“This ecomagination-certified engine burns 15 percent less fuel during cruise than the platform it replaces,” GE said.

As part of Saudi localization efforts, GE announced that the company would use its facilities, located at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, to launch overhaul services on GE90 engines in the region.

Another major GE Aviation customer is the Royal Saudi Air Force, GE’s military systems operations team has partnered with SAEI to establish an engine overhaul capability in the Kingdom. The project includes organic capabilities for the dismantling, inspection, repair, assembly and testing of the company’s engines undertaken at Saudia Aerospace Engineering Industries facilities in Jeddah.

In 2014, Boeing Research & Technology opened an office at KAUST to increase academic engagements with faculty and resident companies interested in collaboration, research and development.

In the same year, Boeing and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology launched the Decision Support Center in Riyadh. The center served as a center for experimentation between customers and partners in the Kingdom, providing more informed interoperability decisions for aerospace and defense products.

In 2015, Boeing signed an agreement with Saudia Aerospace Engineering Industries to establish the Saudi Rotorcraft Support Co. The company offers rotorcraft maintenance, repair, overhaul and support in the Kingdom.

The Trump-Pence administration further bolstered aerospace when Boeing and Saudi National Industrial Development signed a memorandum of understanding to foster the development of the aerospace industry in the Kingdom.

Boeing has had a crucial presence in the Kingdom since 1962. (Getty Images/AFP)

In January 2021, SAEI, the maintenance, repair and overhaul division of Saudia, signed a bilateral agreement with the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in the United States to exchange training experiences and qualify national managers in the field of maintenance. aeronautics.

The agreement included providing consultation to SAEI employees and supporting its technical school with specialized expertise and trainers to improve the quality of the school’s results.

Saudi Aviation Opportunity

Saudi Arabia plans to triple the contribution of its aviation sector to the national gross domestic product from SR80 billion ($21.3 billion) in 2018 to SR280 billion by 2030.

The chairman of the Kingdom’s General Civil Aviation Authority, Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, confirmed at the Dubai Airshow in 2021 his intention to dominate the Middle East in the aviation sector.

Subsequently, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans to launch a second national airline as part of a broader strategy to transform the Kingdom into a global logistics hub as it seeks to diversify from oil.

US President Franklin Roosevelt presented a Douglas DC-3, a propeller-driven airline, as a gift to King Abdul Aziz in 1945.

State media reported that the creation of another flag carrier would propel the Kingdom to fifth place among nations in terms of air transit traffic.

“We have heard about it and we will be happy to compete with any airline in Saudi Arabia with our products,” Omar Arekat, Boeing’s vice president of commercial sales and marketing for the Middle East, told Arab News. East and Africa.

“The Saudi market has a lot of growth potential, and we are working with them for different opportunities,” Arekat added.