In 1962 Saudi Arabian was the first Middle Eastern airline operation a jet airliner, when two Boeing 720´s were delivered. Nowadays Saudia Airlines flies one of the youngest fleet in the region, including Boeing 747-400 and 777-200 aircraft with a total of 139 aircraft. Besides being Saudi Arabia´s domestic and international airline, Saudi Arabian also provides royal and government-related flights, provided by special aircraft types.
By Gostar den Daas | December 2004
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In 1945 Saudi Arabian Airlines was founded when a DC-3 Dakota was given to King Abdul Aziz by US president Roosevelt after their meeting at the Suez Canal. This aircraft was used for both passengers and cargo flights. During these first years, the airline was considered an operating agency of the Ministry of Defence. In 46 their first airport was established at Kandara, nowadays called Jeddah.
In the rest of the 40s two more DC-3´s were purchased and in 1949 the first of five Bristol 170´s was delivered. With the Bristol it was possible to carry freight and passengers on the same flight. With the expansion, new cities like Cairo, Damascus and Beirut were served.
In the 50´s we saw a slow but steady growth. New services were started to Istanbul, Karachi, Amman, Kuwait city, Asmara, Riyadh and Port Sudan. With all these new destinations the fleet had to be expended. Five DC-4´s and ten Convair 340´s were added. The CV340 was the first pressurised aircraft in the Saudi inventory. In 1959 the first maintenance centre was opened in Jeddah.
In 1961 the jet age started for Saudi Arabian. With the order and delivery of two Boeing 720´s in 1962, the airline was the first airline in the Middle East that operated a jet-airliner. On 19 February 1963 Saudi Arabian became an indented company. New planes were bought (DC-6´s and B707´s) and new services were started to Sharjah, Tehran, Khartoum, Dubai, Bombay, Tunis, Rabat, Tripoli, Frankfurt, Geneva, and London. Saudi Arabian also became a member of the Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO). In 1967 a new type, the DC-9, was introduced in the fleet.
In the 1970´s there were many changes. First of all the airline was renamed Saudia and the livery was changed. Also two new types, the B737 and B747 were introduced. The Boeing 737 replaced the DC-9, CV340 and DC-3´s. A total of twenty 737-200 were used. Saudia also started the first all cargo service to Europe. New services were also started to Rome, Paris, Muscat, Kano and Stockholm. 1975 saw the introduction of the first wide-body aircraft, the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar and the twin-prop Fairchild F-27J.
The special flight service division was founded in 1976 to provide Royal and government flights. On February 1 1979, the airline commenced joint operations with Pan Am from Dhahran to New York using long-range Boeing B747-SPs to achieve non-stop capability.
Saudia Arabia suffered the first major air tragedies in the 80´s, see the aircraft losses page for more information. Many new routes were introduced to several European cities and destinations in Asia, Africa and North America. In 1980 the Fokker F-28 Fellowship was introduced to replace the Fairchild F-27. As a launch customer, Saudi Arabian received the first of eleven Airbus A300´s. A new type was also introduced with the SFS, the Cessna Citation II.
In the 90's even more destinations were introduced. Also new aircraft types joined the fleet and replaced older types. New services were started to Orlando, Madras, Tokyo, Washington D.C., Johannesburg, Alexandria, Athens, Milan, Malaga and Sanaa. The second tragedy took place in 1996 when a B747 incinerated in a mid-air coalition with a Kazakhstan Il-76. New aircraft types were introduced like the MD-90, MD-11 and the first B777-268 (HZ-AKB) in 1998.
In 2000 and on the livery was changed again and the airline was renamed to it´s old name: Saudi Arabian Airlines. Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud signed a contract to conduct studies for the privatisation of the airline. The final B777 was delivered in August 2001 completing the next generation fleet. In 2002 a new Golden service was started to Europe, the US, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.
Special Flight Services (SFS)
Saudi Arabian Special Flight Services (SFS) was established in 1976 as a division of Saudi Arabian. The purpose of this special division is providing Royal-, Government flights and celebrity charters.
The SFS operates some special aircraft types like the 727, VC-130H and B757. The 757, HZ-HMED, is a fully equipped flying hospital.
Aircraft losses and incidents
Saudi Arabian saw two major accidents since the airline was founded in 1945. A total of 18 aircraft were lost since that year. Aircraft losses since the first jet-liner incident in 1979 are listed below.
||Aircraft / Notes
|23 August 2001||B747-300, HZ-AIO, Kuala Lumpur-Sepang IAP, Malaysia|
|The Jumbo taxied into a draining ditch and was damaged beyond repair. A ground engineer wasn't able to control the aircraft when the nose-wheel steering failed due to limited hydraulic power. The forward fuselage was severely cracked.|
|6 September 1997||B737-200, HZ-AGM, Najran AP, Saudi Arabia|
|During take-off engine nr. 2 indicated problems and the start was rejected. During this procedure the aircraft veered of the runway and caught fire, resulting in a write-off. No serious injuries among the 85 passengers and crewmembers.|
|12 November 1996||B747-100, HZ-AIH, Charki Dhardri, India|
|Flight SV763, departed from New Delhi IAP, on a scheduled flight to Riyadh collided on 14.000ft head-on with a Kazach Ilyushin IL-76 freighter heading in the opposite direction. Both aircraft immediately disintegrated and crashed leaving no survivors. Cause of the crash was a misunderstanding between the Kazach pilot and the Indian ATC. Both outbound and inbound flight uses the same flightpath with a 1000 ft clearance. Although inbound, the Kazach pilot used the outbound level. 310 passenger and 37 crewmembers died.|
|19 August 1980||L-1011-200, HZ-AHK, Riyadh IAP, Saudi Arabia|
|7 minutes after departure from Riyadh the pilot of flight SV163 received a fire warning from cargo compartment C-3. The flight was interrupted and the aircraft returned to Riyadh. During the flight back, some and flames appeared in the aft cabin. The Tristar landed successfully but the pilot told the cabin crew, not to evacuate. The aircraft slowly turned into the taxiway and the engines were shut down. Nobody from inside the aircraft opened the doors, so the emergency crew had to open them, which took some 23 minutes. When entering the plane none of the 287 passengers and 14 crewmembers was alive. The cause of the fire was never determined. Poor emergency management on behalf of the captain was cited as the main factor, who failed to brief the cabin crew for evacuation and failed to come to an immediate stop on the runway lead to a disastrous level of intoxication inside the cabin.|
|30 November 1979||B707, HZ-ACE, Jeddah IAP, Saudi Arabia|
|Structural damage was received during a heavy landing, nose gear first, at Jeddah IAP. The aircraft was withdrawn from service and used as a maintenance and cabin trainer.|
Information was noted November 2004.