CEO Keynote: How SAUDIA is Helping to Put Saudi Arabia on the Map


Photo (left to right): SimpliFlying’s CEO Shashank Nigam and Captain Ibrahim Koshy, CEO at SAUDIA.

During his keynote session at the APEX/IFSA EXPO 2021 Thought Leadership Conference, SAUDIA’s CEO Captain Ibrahim Koshy – who began his career as an airline pilot – referred to his airline as one of the industry’s best kept secrets, and went on to highlight its recent milestones. 

At the EXPO, SAUDIA was named as one of seven first APEX WORLD CLASS airlines, and earlier in the year won SkyTrax’s World’s Most Improved Airline award for the second-time running. It also has a Diamond-level certification as part of the APEX Health Safety powered by SimpliFlying program. 

Another new achievement is the opening of its lounge at Jeddah International Airport’s new terminal which, along with Riyadh, is one of its main hubs. The largest SkyTeam lounge worldwide, SAUDIA’s Jeddah lounge offering includes a dedicated business center, special kid’s area and several dining zones. 

However, SAUDIA’s offering may not be a secret for much longer, as its network is growing and Saudi Arabia is on its way to becoming a transit hub. Koshy stated, “We served about 95 cities pre-pandemic in 2019 and we’re actually targeting 200 destinations by 2030. The fleet we’ll need will also have to double in size from what we have today, which is about 150 aircraft.”

Onboard, the product offering is also undergoing a transformation. SAUDIA is installing Inmarsat’s GX Aviation in-flight connectivity (IFC) service across 35 Airbus A321neo and Airbus A321XLR aircraft and plans to offer industry-leading IFC on both its narrow- and wide-body fleets.

Photo (left to right): Shashank Nigam, SimpliFlying’s CEO; Captain Ibrahim Koshy, SAUDIA’s CEO; and Dr. Joe Leader, APEX/IFSA CEO.

It is also the launch customer for Inmarsat’s OneFi customer experience platform in the Middle East, as well as the global launch customer for Inmarsat’s next-generation terminal developed with GDC Advanced Technology. “We didn’t want to be second to anyone on that because we know how important it is,” Koshy said.

This move was very much part of its strategy to partner with the “best of the best.” During the pandemic, SAUDIA also partnered with Dettol and Lifebuoy on hygiene products. Elsewhere, the SAUDIA Group is growing its maintenance, repair and overhaul footprint by establishing local joint ventures with Honeywell Aerospace and General Electric, among others. Koshy added, “that’s something other airlines can benefit from too.”

While it’s not the result of a direct collaboration, the local approach to sustainability is also having an impact on SAUDIA. Koshy referenced “ritzy new resorts” springing up that have been designed to have a net-positive impact on the environment. “It’s putting pressure on us in the airline industry to do the same. We have to be part of that ecosystem.” He confirmed that SAUDIA now has a dedicated sustainability team and is working with universities, petroleum companies and other partners on various sustainability initiatives. 

At the end of the interview, Koshy was awarded the first-ever APEX Health Safety powered by SimpliFlying certification for an airline lounge by SimpliFlying’s CEO Shashank Nigam and APEX/IFSA CEO Dr. Joe Leader. SAUDIA’s Jeddah lounge achieved a Diamond-level certification, which is the highest possible, based on evidence-based responses to 60 questions across eight categories including food safety, testing and tracing and contactless amenities.