Saudi Arabia’s Aviation Strategy Reaps Record Air Traffic

Photo Credit: SAUDIA.
Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) announced impressive growth in flights, passenger numbers, and global connections in 2023.

The Saudi skies saw a record-breaking year, with a record 112 million passengers and 815,000 flights recorded.

This surge is a direct result of the ongoing Saudi Aviation Strategy, which is transforming the Kingdom’s aviation sector. The 2023 result – a 26% increase on 2022 and 8% above 2019 levels – shows the Strategy to be a success so far. 

Passenger Boom

Flight activity boomed in 2023, with a 16% increase to 814,995 flights compared to 701,290 in the previous year. Passenger numbers experienced an even steeper rise, jumping a substantial 26% from 88 million to a record-breaking 112 million, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

Saudi Arabia’s global reach expanded significantly in 2023. The Kingdom is now connected to a staggering 148 destinations, boasting at least 52 weekly flights to and from each location.

A Saudia Airbus in flight.
Photo Credit: Saudia

Low-Cost Carriers Take Flight

Low-cost carriers (LCCs) were a major engine of passenger growth, particularly in the domestic market.

Their market share doubled from 27% to 44%, reflecting a growing preference for budget-friendly travel options within Saudi Arabia.

This shift is fueled by increased competition and a wider range of choices for travelers. LCCs also made significant strides internationally, with their market share doubling from 16% pre-pandemic to 32% in 2023.

Saudi Strategy: A Catalyst for Success

GACA President H.E. Mr. Abdulaziz Al-Duailej hailed the 2023 figures as a testament to the strategic vision of the Saudi Aviation Strategy.

He emphasized how this strategy positions Saudi Arabia as a leader in Middle Eastern aviation, boasting record-breaking growth in both flights and passengers.

Looking ahead, Mr. Al-Duailej highlighted the “unprecedented opportunities” being created for global aviation and the private sector.

A prime example is the expansion of Madinah Airport, with its capacity set to double thanks to a successful public-private partnership project.

Further Growth Initiatives

The 12th Saudi Aviation Strategy Steering Committee meeting in Madinah saw the announcement of several exciting growth initiatives alongside the 2023 performance figures.

These include a masterplan expansion project for Madinah Airport that will double its annual capacity from 8 million to 17 million passengers.

Additionally, Saudia will expand its operations at Madinah Airport, featuring dedicated aircraft and increased capacity to cater to both pilgrims and other travelers.

The Saudi Aviation Strategy

The Saudi Aviation Strategy aims to revolutionize the Kingdom’s entire aviation ecosystem by 2030.

This ambitious plan, driven by Vision 2030 and aligned with the National Transport and Logistics Strategy. It seeks to propel Saudi Arabia to the top spot in the Middle Eastern aviation sector.

In summary, the key elements of the Strategy include:

  • Unlocking US$100 billion in private and public investment across airports, airlines, and aviation support services.
  • Expanding Saudi Arabia’s global connectivity from 99 destinations to over 250 across 29 airports.
  • Tripling annual passenger traffic to a staggering 330 million.
  • Establishing two global long-haul connecting hubs.
  • Increasing air cargo capacity to 4.5 million tons.

Steering the Course

The Saudi Aviation Strategy is spearheaded by GACA, the Kingdom’s aviation regulator. GACA’s mission is to develop the air transport industry in accordance with international standards.

It aims to solidify Saudi Arabia’s position as a global leader in civil aviation, and enforce regulations to ensure the safety and security of air travel.

The Saudi Aviation Strategy has reaped rewards, with figures showing the Kingdom's air traffic hit record breaking levels in 2023
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