Saudi Arabia has struggled to recruit a chief executive officer for the new national airline it’s looking to establish amid confusion over the carrier’s strategy, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Current and former chiefs at American, European and Middle Eastern airlines have been approached before deciding not to get involved, two people said, asking not to be named because the matter is private. A board has been selected and advisers retained to help move things forward, they said.
A lack of clarity concerning basic questions about the airline and Saudi Arabia’s future aviation landscape is one issue, together with potentially unrealistic performance targets, they said. The search has consequently moved on to lower-profile executives, the people said.
The country’s Public Investment Fund, which is in charge of establishing the new airline, declined to comment on the state of the recruitment process. A person with knowledge of the sovereign fund’s plans said it has a potential CEO in mind and that an announcement may come in the fourth quarter.
Saudi Arabia said in June last year that it would found a second national airline alongside flag carrier Saudia as part of the Vision 2030 push to make the economy less dependent on oil. While the startup would predominantly serve the capital Riyadh, which has ambitions to become a global business hub, it would also seek to compete with larger Gulf carriers for global transfer traffic.
According to plans previously announced, Saudia, as Saudi Arabian Airlines is known, would remain focused on its current base in Jeddah, catering to the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage markets, together with Red Sea tourism.
Others carriers in the kingdom include Flyadeal, the low-cost arm of Saudia, and discount rival Flynas.
Saudi Arabia said in June it would incentivize airlines to fly routes to the country from major global cities in a bid to boost tourist numbers. The kingdom is looking to lift arrivals to 100 million a year by 2030.