Qatar Airways grows in Saudi Arabia as it catches up to flydubai and appears to end Al Maha ambition

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Often overlooked in the story of Gulf aviation superconnectors is Saudi Arabia. A large and underserved domestic and international market in its own right, Saudi also possesses hub capability to challenge its better known rivals. 13 Saudi cities have international service but the flag carrier Saudia only serves five. Foreign airlines have moved in, taking advantage of Saudia's absence and the often favourable geography.

Qatar Airways intends to launch service to two new Saudi points in 2017, bringing its total number of services to 10 as it seeks to narrow the gap with the 13 destinations of the leader, flydubai.

In 2016 Qatar Airways overtook flydubai and Emirates in capacity size, making it the largest foreign airline in Saudi. Qatar's organic growth comes as it is increasingly likely that its proposed Saudi start-up, Al Maha Airways, will not launch. Saudia accounts for only 31% of Saudi's international market. This is likely to grow as Saudia continues its quiet revitalisation, aided by improved hubs at Jeddah and Riyadh. There is also a dual brand strategy with the LCC start-up flyadeal.

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