Former Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas left Abu Dhabi last October after being approached by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) to take over the new Riyadh-based RIA airline.
Douglas has not publicly commented on reports that he must was to lead the RIA project, and only said he was leaving Etihad Airways to “take advantage of the offer and opportunities elsewhere.” The airline quickly replaced Douglas with Antonoaldo Neves, a former CEO and board member of the Portuguese flag carrier TAP.
At the same time, there were reports in the Saudi press that Douglas was no longer involved in the RIA project, and the wealth fund was preparing to spend 30 billion dollars to launch the airline in record time.
During his time at Etihad, Douglas launched an effort to drastically cut costs and transform the airline's strategy to return it to profitability. Despite the dramatic fallout from the pandemic, Douglas' plan proved remarkably effective, with the airline reporting an underlying operating profit of $296 million in the first half of 2022.
RIA is a key part of Saudi Arabia's long-term modernization plans that will enable Kingdom to renovate its economy and receive millions of tourists in the coming years.
The airline will be based in a brand new airport capable of serving about 185 million passengers a year. The existing national carrier, Saudia Airlines, will focus its operations outside of Jeddah, primarily flying from Umrah.
The RIA model will build on the successful regional megaprojects of Emirates and Qatar Airways. Alcohol will be served on board and male passengers will be allowed to wear shorts. There will be no place to pray during the flight, instead travelers will be offered familiar Western entertainment.