KSA $100 Billion Investment Will Futureproof Its Aviation

May 2024 saw Saudi Arabia declare its intention for a sweeping modernisation and expansion of its aviation sector, powered by a further $100 billion investment. As part of the Vision 2030 plan, these investments aim to turn the kingdom into a regional and international hub for leisure tourism and business travel, facilitated by wholesale improvements to its airports.

Why now? The numbers make sense
The post-covid restoration of air travel passenger numbers is already well established, the Saudi economy needs to accelerate its economic diversification plans, and several key aviation technologies are maturing. Together, these factors make it the ideal time for bold and ambitious planning on the airport development side.

Saudi Arabia’s broader ambitions to turbocharge its tourism prospects are well known. By 2030, the country aims to be welcoming 150 million visitors annually, while also securing its place as a premier transit hub by connecting 330 million air passengers to 250 destinations around the world.

With a focus on attracting high-spending, culturally curious visitors from China, India and Europe, rather than aiming for mass-market appeal, this plan requires world-class aviation infrastructure, especially the airports that will welcome the planned influx of global arrivals.

Where is the money going? Key projects highlighted
Of the new $100 billion directed towards Saudi aviation, $50 billion is specifically going towards the development of the country’s airports. This demonstrates how vital the government and top-level stakeholders view the airport aspect of the wider plan to attract international visitors, attention and, eventually, investment.

$30 billion – King Salman International Airport: By far the most exciting (and most expensive) airport project in the pipeline is the construction of a brand-new, 57km2, six-runway airport in the capital Riyadh. Not only will the King Salman International Airport become the largest in the world, it will also be one of the most advanced. Seamless customer experiences, AI, IoT, sensors, robots and autonomous movers will all feature heavily in its daily operations. Sustainability is also key, as the new airport aims to achieve LEED Platinum certification by incorporating cutting-edge green initiatives into its design and will be powered by renewable energy. Construction began in 2024 and the airport should be commercially operational by 2030 – a rapid schedule given the size, scale and complexity of its masterplan.

$5 billion – Jeddah Airport City: Masterplanned in early 2024, Jeddah Airport City is a prime example of how aviation is the gateway to developing long-term, sustainable projects that diversify the economy and attract more diverse tourism streams. Located next to King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA), this 1.91 million square metre project aims to completely transform the air travel experience, offering a Lifestyle Centre, shopping district, office space, advanced co-working spaces, a vast range of restaurants and entertainment spaces, topped with a 20,000-seat arena complex. Due for completion in 2028, this addition will further enhance KAIA’s attractiveness to business and leisure travellers. Saudi Airport Exhibition exhibitor ICAD have delivered critical works at KAIA.

$275 million – Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport Expansion: Otherwise known as Madinah Airport, the planned expansion will be delivered over two phases. While the existing passenger terminal will be completely overhauled, a brand-new 40,000m2 domestic terminal will also be built. Both phases are planned to be completed by 2027. Already, this project has highlighted international appetite to invest in Saudi aviation, as Turkish airport operator TAV Airports will contribute $71.5 million to financing the project.

Abha International Airport Expansion: Located in the Aseer region, Abha International Airport is Saudi Arabia’s 5th largest by passenger numbers, but it needs both expansion and optimisation. The new masterplan for this project arrived late last year with bids still being tendered for key works. The main developments include a new terminal to boost annual passenger capacity from 1.5 million to 13 million. Planned innovations include biometric based security processing measures, 20 automated gates, passenger boarding bridges, 41 check-in counters alongside self-service check-in kiosks, and high-capacity parking facilities with smart mapping and assistance features. While overall costs of the project are yet to be established, the overall investment is likely to run to between $500-$1 billion, as the airport is a critical part of establishing the Asir region as one of the top tourist destinations in the country.

Ambition and Innovation combined – Next-gen airport infrastructure will transform Saudi tourism
In each of these projects, not to mention innumerable smaller efforts to upgrade and expand airports across the country, the central theme is futureproofing. Not only are existing airports being developed to accommodate the anticipated influx of tourists and business travellers attracted to Saudi Arabia’s constantly improving offerings, the brand-new airports are designed as a statement that the country can deliver the next generation of air travel experiences.

More than simply transiting to and from destinations within the country, this upgraded Saudi airport experience will be part of the attraction. The emphasis on customer care, ease and excitement, enabled by the latest in aviation technology, should support Saudi Arabia’s wider ambitions to become a regional hub for tourism and travel.