Saudi Arabia leverages green growth in aviation ecosystem

Just four years into its implementation, the Saudi Aviation Strategy has shown incredible results, and GACA is taking the opportunity to develop a more sustainable aviation sector.

Bernard Roux
Bernard Roux
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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sits in a strategically unique geographical position, at the meeting of Europe, Africa and Asia. For centuries, the country has capitalized on its position on the world’s trade routes, from camel trains to booming maritime trade. In the era of aviation, this position will be leveraged to support its further economic and social transition.

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Development of the Kingdom’s aviation ecosystem is a cornerstone of the Saudi Vision 2030, as a driver for economic diversity, a provider of sustainable careers for young Saudis and a contributor to a vibrant society. To shape and promote the accelerated development of the sector, in 2020 the Saudi leadership implemented the Saudi Aviation Strategy (SAS). Backed by $100 billion in investments from both the government and the private sector, the strategy aims to turn Saudi Arabia into a leader in the global aviation industry and empower tourism sector growth by extending connectivity to 250+ destinations across 29 airports, tripling annual passenger traffic to 330 million, and increasing air cargo volume to 4.5m tonnes annually by 2030.

And it is working. In March, Saudi’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) announced outstanding progress in air traffic performance in 2023. The Kingdom saw the total number of flights increase 16 percent from 701,290 to 814,995 and the number of passengers rise 26 percent from 88 million to 112 million in 2023, well above pre-pandemic levels. In addition, 2023 saw Saudi Arabia expand its air connectivity to reach 148 destinations with at least 52 flights to and from the Kingdom.

Green aviation opportunity

However, it is not enough to just grow, the aviation sector must also change and modernize, to ensure that the environmental promises of Saudi’s Vision 2030 are also upheld and to safeguard that the growing aviation ecosystem is as environmentally sustainable as possible, while still providing a seamless customer experience. To this end, the Saudi Aviation Strategy includes the privatization and modernization of the nation’s aviation infrastructure, with GACA leading and strengthening Saudi Arabia’s regulatory regime to protect consumers, increase efficiency and enhance the safety capabilities of airlines and airports operating in the Kingdom.

Regional competitors have shown that state-of-the-art technology applied to airport, airline and immigration systems can create more connected, better functioning airports and airspaces that are also the cutting edge of green aviation.

Saudi Arabia’s airlines, including Riyadh Air, Flyadeal, Flynas and Saudia are already investing in fuel efficient next generation aircraft such as Airbus A320neo and A321neo and Boeing 787-9. In February, Flynas reported notable strides towards zero-emission aviation, cutting carbon emissions by 161,000 tonnes in 18 months, through a strategy of fleet modernisation, enhancing fuel efficiency, and embracing digital transformation for sustainability.

New and upgraded airports are also seeking opportunities to ensure that they are equipped to maximise sustainability, through carbon-neutral certification, designing eco-friendly infrastructure, and adopting renewable energy. The recently operational Red Sea International, when fully complete, will be carbon-neutral, powered by 100 percent renewable energy and served by a fleet of electric vehicles.

Within the current airport infrastructure, operational ATM improvements can provide an important contribution to reducing CO2 emissions with progress achieved in both airspace design and deployment of interoperable technologies. By optimizing operations – such as flight paths, ground operations and weather optimisation – it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions immediately on long haul flights by up to 11 percent and on short haul flights by up to 14.7 percent. Just as importantly, these actions could also have a significant impact on reducing non-CO2 emissions, which represent two thirds of aviation’s total climate impact.

Flight Management Systems (FMS) constantly monitor, adjust and fine-tune the trajectory of an aircraft to optimize the flight for fuel consumption and ensure better on-time performance and more comfortable flights for passengers and crews.

As the brains of tomorrow’s aircraft, these systems ingest information in real time from a larger number of sources, not only data from the aircraft’s own systems but also external sources such as weather services.

This comprises a spectrum of pioneering solutions, from unmanned aircraft systems to vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. These advancements aim to enhance the safety, soundness, and sustainability of air transport, significantly accelerating the mobility of people and goods while addressing environmental concerns.

As the nation builds on the undeniable success of the Saudi Vision and the Saudi Aviation Strategy, we readily recognize and hope to contribute to the work that is being done, not just to grow the aviation sector, but to do so in an environmentally aware way, as a modern, future-focused nation.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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