Airline Profile

Saudi Arabian Airlines

By Gostar den Daas | May 2014
Saudi Arabians royal flag carrier.

In 1962 Saudi Arabian Airlines was the first Middle Eastern airline operation a jet airliner, when two Boeing 720´s were delivered. Nowadays, rebranded as Saudia, the airline flies a modern fleet of Boeing and Airbus aircraft with a total of 90 destinations. Besides being Saudi Arabia´s domestic and international airline, Saudi Arabian also provides cargo and Royal / government-related flights, provided by special aircraft types. During the annual Hajj season Saudia is one of the biggest charter operators.

Saudi Arabian Airlines logo
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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 Defense. In 46 their first airport was established at Kandara, nowadays called Jeddah.

During 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 pressurized aircraft in the Saudia inventory. In 1959 the first maintenance center 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 Organization (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 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, Saudia 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.




Current fleet

In 2000 and on the livery was changed again and the airline was renamed to its old name: Saudi Arabian Airlines. Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud signed a contract to conduct studies for the privatization of the airline. Nowadays its more or less privatized with parts of the organization based in separate companies. In 2002 a new Golden service was started to Europe, the US, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.

At the end of 2013, service was started to Toronto and Los Angeles with the introduction of the Boeing 777-300 to the fleet. In 2015 the first B787-9 will join the fleet. 8 Aircraft are on order.

Currently these aircraft are in service. Numbers between the brackets are on order.

Type In service Type In service
A32115B777-30012 (8)

Aircraft in service were noted May 2014.




Saudi Cargo

The cargo division of Saudia operates some 15 aircraft of the type B747 and MD11. 5 of the 747s are operated by other parties like Air Atlanta Icelandic and Veteran Avia. Of the 747 the type 400 is mostly used, but still five 200 series are operational. Recently two 747-8Fs joined the fleet.




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- and government flights and celebrity charters.

The SFS operates some special aircraft types like the Boeing 747SP, A340 and B757. The 757, HZ-HMED, is a fully equipped flying hospital. In the past also the B727 was used. Besides the airliners, several types of bizjets are used, like the Falcon 900 and 7X, Gulfstream IV and Hawker 400XP.




At least three VC-130Hs are wearing full Saudia colors and are used as VIP transport.

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.

Date Aircraft / Notes
5 Januari 2014B767-300, HS-BKE, Medina, Saudi Arabia
This leased Orient Thai Airlines 767, wearing Saudi Arabian titles was forced to make an emergency landing at Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina. During landing the right hand landing gear failed to deploy with the no. 2 engine contacting the ground. 29 people were injured and the plane was damaged.
25 May 2008B747-300, TF-ARS, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Wet leased Air Atlanta Icelandic B747-300, in full Saudi Arabian colors, experienced a fire on the no. 3 engine during the landing at Dhaka International Airport. The flight crew taxied the aircraft clear of the runway and performed the engine fire procedures with no luck. The fire destroyed the engine but did not affect the rest of the plane.
8 September 2005B747-300, HZ-AIP, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Flight SV781 was told during taxiing at Colombo’s Bandaranaike airport, that a bomb might be onboard. The aircraft was parked at an isolated position and while waiting for the stepladders the captain decided to evaluate the passengers by using the aircrafts slides. No bomb was found.
23 August 2001B747-300, 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 1997B737-200, 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 1996B747-100, 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 1980L-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 1979B707, 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 May 2014.

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