The ambitious ‘Saudi Vision 2030’ aims to attract 100 million visitors annually and the rise of Saudi Arabia’s air transport sector is among our industry’s biggest stories right now. The new airlines and airports taking shape there will redefine excellence and disruptive approaches, none more so than the NEOM initiative. Ahead of his keynote address at the co-located FTE EMEA and FTE Ancillary & Retailing, taking place in Dublin on 23-25 May 2023, Klaus Goersch, Chief Executive Officer, NEOM Airlines, previews the pioneering ideas and real innovation that will be delivered by the new airline.
The current plan is for NEOM Airlines to begin operations at the end of Q4 2024 or early 2025. The initial launch will be undertaken in a controlled way and as the demands of NEOM grow, so the airline will be ready for a more aggressive expansion.
NEOM Airlines will, in many cases, be the first point of contact with the NEOM experience and vision. Given the scale of NEOM and its multi-faceted projects across a diverse range of integrated sectors, it’s a natural extension of that initiative to have an airline dedicated to such an expansive region and destination.
The new, third national airline will complement and have its own unique place alongside the established flag carrier SAUDIA, and Riyadh International Airlines.
“Each airline has a clear strategy, being a global network carrier, focusing on religious traffic or being an airline dedicated to the destination,” Goersch explains. “As NEOM’s overall vision is to be the future of living and working, NEOM Airlines is there to support the needs of NEOM and its growing population, visitors and tourism. Our focus is on serving the destination from global international markets. This means the three airlines complement each other as partners for the joint ambitions of the Kingdom.”
Indeed, NEOM Airlines’ overriding strategic ambition is to be the key enabler for the destination and the region of NEOM, “by providing a world-class travel experience”. Serving the new destination of NEOM from its home base, NEOM Bay Airport, the carrier will cater to the developing needs of both business and leisure traffic.
“The final route development plan is in the making, but naturally key regional and global gateways are top candidates,” says Goersch. “We cooperate closely with all NEOM stakeholders and projects to align our ‘go to market’ strategy. After all, we are the enabler for the destination, so alignment across the NEOM projects is absolutely key. We are aligning our requirements with the airport teams and working closely to ensure that whatever operational plans are in the making, the airport is ready to handle them.”
“Integrating the complete experience from inspiration to travel”
Goersch will further explore the pioneering approaches being taken by NEOM Airlines in a keynote address at the co-located FTE EMEA and FTE Ancillary & Retailing, taking place in Dublin on 23-25 May 2023.
“We are a bit early to share the specifics at this point in time, but there are a number of well-known areas when it comes to air travel that are difficult for customers to understand,” Goersch explains. “There is complexity based on decades of legacy systems and these areas are being addressed by NEOM Airlines. We have a somewhat unique opportunity to take out complexity, as we are building a future airline from scratch. How the final product and innovation will look, we will share with the world at a later stage, but we will also make sure that innovation becomes a part of our DNA for ongoing development.”
When looking at innovative technologies to streamline the passenger experience, NEOM Airlines is doing so across many areas – both on the ground and in the air, as well as in terms of distribution, pricing and sales. It is a real end-to-end customer experience approach. “As we are an integral part of the destination of NEOM, we have to go beyond the ‘flight’ part of travel,” says Goersch. “We are looking at integrating the complete experience from inspiration to travel, from when you are at home until you are back. This means there are plenty of opportunities to create an experience that involves the wider destination of NEOM with the flying experience of getting there and back.”
Designing the airline and customer proposition from a blank canvas
There are so many parts of the process when considering the products that customers will value across the end-to-end journey of tomorrow. NEOM Airlines is responding by not just focusing on the products themselves, but also on the value created for customers.
“We are all individuals that have our own needs and values,” Goersch shares. “We should not think of products only, but also look at process, then the products will follow and complement that. Designing our airline and customer proposition from a blank canvas gives us the opportunity to do it differently and do it right from the beginning, without the complexity and legacy built up over decades. We will capitalise on this.”
The ambition being shown by NEOM Airlines and the myriad air transport developments in Saudia Arabia will, Goersch adds, provide some key pieces of inspiration for others in the sector: “Nothing is impossible if you really want it to happen, getting the real talent and minds on the projects will make it happen, and understanding that intrinsic motivation is a massive force to deliver change and innovation.”