Saudi Arabian expands cargo

Founded in 1945, Saudi Arabian Airlines started operations with just a single DC-3, but today, it has become not only one of the largest Middle East airlines, but it is also one of the largest cargo operators in that region with even more plans to expand its cargo operations.

Saudi Arabian operates a dedicated cargo fleet of one Boeing 747-200 freighter, offering 104 tonnes cargo capacity and four MD-11 freighters each offering 92 tonnes capacity. “These give us the flexibility of both nose- and side loading capabilities, thereby enabling us to maximise our capacity,” said a spokesperson for the airline.

“In order to boost our services, the airline has installed one of the most advanced systems in the world – the Saudi Arabian Airlines Cargo Automated Network(SCAN), which links our domestic and international hubs, and all sales and airport facilities across its worldwide network,” he said.

The airline’s cargo control centre, which operates seven days a week and coordinates aircraft movement, space availability and status of all shipments, i sat the heart of its operations. “Our SCAN system handles all reservations and the issuing of way bills and manifests, as well as full consignment tracking and proof ofdelivery,” the spokesman said.

Within Saudi Arabia, the airline’s maincargo hubs are located in Riyadh, Jeddahand Dammam where there are fully computerised state-of-the-art facilities that enable Saudi Arabian to guarantee rapidturn-around times, with most shipments clearing within two hours of arrival in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabian’s international hubs are located in Brussels, New York and Taipei.In most cases, these hubs can accept consignments up to two hours prior to departure. Brussels and New York are also served by express trucking networks which provide consignment pick-up and delivery services in most major feedercities.

Aside from freighter services, Saudi Arabian also offers extensive belly-hold cargo capacity as its passenger fleet consists of B747s and B777s, A300s and MD90s which cover many destinations worldwide.

Fleet modernisation

In order to further expand its network, Saudi Arabian has signed a firm contract with Airbus for eight A330-300 wide body aircraft as part of its fleet’s 10-year modernisation plan. The contract follows a deal for 22 Airbus A320s signed at the end of 2007, marking the first agreement between the Middle East airline and the European aircraft manufacturer.The A330-300 has significant belly-holdcapacity that will be a boost for the cargo division.

This purchase follows the recent signing of a Letter of Intent between Saudi Arabian and ALAFCO (Aviation Leaseand Finance Company) for leasing fivenew Airbus A320-200 aircraft. The LoIwas signed by Khalid A. Al-Molhem, director general of Saudi Arabian Airlinesand Ahmad A. Alzabin, chairman & CEO of ALAFCO. The aircraft is expected to be delivered in the last quarter of 2009.

“The approach of mixing between aircraft purchase and long-term dry-lease of new aircraft perfectly suited the airline’smajor strategic plan for privatisation as it will give the airline the flexibility to modernise its fleet however and when needed,” Saudia’s DG said.

Saudi Arabian Airlines, which was the launch customer for the Airbus A300-600,took delivery of the first aircraft in 1984.The airline expects to benefit from the operational commonality and efficiency of a combined Airbus wide body and single aisle fleet.

In further expansion of its cargo operations,Saudi Arabian and Singapore Airlines signed a Memorandum of Understanding(MOU) for Marketing Cooperationin June this year, establishing the framework for a long-term relationship primarily focused on developing routes between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabiaand Singapore.

The non-binding MOU is expected to foster a closer relationship between the two carriers. It outlines the areas in which the two parties will cooperate, to seek new business opportunities, improve airline efficiency, and ultimately deliver an enhanced customer experience.

The MOU excludes cooperation in setting, among others, individual cargorates, or any other activity not exempted under applicable competition laws.

In October last year, Saudi Arabian introduced additional cargo flights to Addis Ababa and Khartoum from Jeddah.The additional flights, operated by MD-11F, are operating every Wednesday to Khartoum and every Thursday to Addis Ababa.

Privatisation next on the agenda

In order to consolidate its overall plans, Saudi Arabian has already initiated privatisation plans. The airline has completed measures for the privatisation of its catering sector and has activated plans to privatise Saudi Arabian’s cargo unit at the end of last year.

As part of the privatisation drive, the airline plans to transform into a holding company, with part of the shareholding for public subscription in the future, with a number of subsidiaries to run its catering and air cargo divisions, ground service, Prince Sultan Aviation Academy, technical and basic aviation services.

Saudi Arabian, which has a fleet of 120 passenger and cargo aircraft, serves over 50 international destinations across four continents and 25 domestic destinations within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In Asia, Saudi Arabian also flies to HongKong, Guangzhou and Shanghai in China, as well as to Bangkok, Thailand.