Saudi Arabia to restart privatization plan for 29 airports

Saudi Arabia is relaunching the privatization of its airports in an effort to diversify the kingdom’s oil-dominated economy and secure investment as it seeks to triple annual visitor numbers by 2030.

King Abdulaziz International Airport. Photo/General Authority of Civil Aviation of Saudi Arabia

Ownership of the 29 airports has already been moved to a new entity, Matarat, in order to prepare them for the process, Abdulaziz Al Duailej, president of the General Authority of Civil Aviation, said in an interview Monday. An international investor roadshow could start in the next 12 to 18 months.

“I will not wait until 2030 to privatize the whole sector,” Al Duailej said on the sidelines of the Saudi Future of Aviation Forum in Riyadh, with the selloff to be completed long before then. He said it’s not yet clear how much the privatization program might raise.

Saudi Arabia has previously embarked on attempts to privatize its airports, hiring Goldman Sachs in 2017 to sell a stake in Riyadh’s King Khalid International (RUH) hub, before abandoning the plan.

The kingdom’s tourism push is part of a strategy announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to reduce reliance on the world’s largest crude oil exports. The plan would turn Riyadh into a global business center, draw foreign talent and attract 330 million visitors a year by the end of the decade. In contrast to established hubs in Doha and Dubai, the aim is to bring people into the country rather than provide global connections, Al Duailej said.

As part of the plan, Saudi Arabia is also looking to launch a new international airline based in Riyadh, separate to existing flag carrier Saudia, and owned by its sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

The strategy includes developing a new airport in Riyadh that will be owned by the PIF, and an increase in the number of direct destinations served from the country to 250 from about 100 currently.

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