The National staff
Etihad Airways will operate a third daily flight to Riyadh from next month.
The extra services underscore a sharp rise in the number of visitors from Saudi Arabia.
Traffic from Saudi Arabia at Abu Dhabi International Airport rose sharply in November compared with the same month the previous year, with an increase of 43.5 per cent.
Etihad’s new daily late night departures from both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are timed to allow guests to spend full days in either city. Together with aBoeing 777 and the recently-introduced Boeing 787 on the route, the new service will increase the number of weekly seats to 10,600 between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. Codeshare partner flynas will continue to operate a daily flight on the route.
“Our expanded services between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are in line withEtihad Airways’ strategy to offer more choice, greater frequency and additional travel options when aircraft availability and market conditions permit,” said Kevin Knight, the Etihad Aviation Group chief strategy and planning officer.
“The extra flights will cater to the strong demand between the two capital cities, and bring closer our global network to Riyadh over our Abu Dhabi hub.”
Saudi Arabia was the seventh-largest market for Abu Dhabi during the first 10 months of last year, with 125,470 tourists visiting the emirate, a 3 per cent year-on-year increase, according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi).
The number of visitors from the kingdom is forecast to rise further after the Saudi budget airline flynas started four weekly direct flights between Dammam and Abu Dhabi International late last month.
“We will definitely see more tourists from Saudi Arabia with cheaper flights and better connectivity between Abu Dhabi and different Saudi cities,” said Mathieu van Alphen, the general manager at Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi. “For us the Saudi market is big but we could do more.”
During the first 11 months of last year, 22 million travellers passed through Abu Dhabi International, an increase of 5.3 per cent over the year-before period.
The airport’s Terminal 3, which is dedicated to Etihad, recorded a 38.6 per cent year-on-year increase in passenger traffic – to 1.31 million – during November.
Etihad launched scheduled flights to Saudi Arabia with services to Riyadh in 2004, and has steadily grown capacity with additional frequencies and aircraft upgrades to its current double daily operation.
From February 1, the airline will operate 70 return flights each week to and from four Saudi cities. On the Riyadh route alone, Etihad Airways has flown more than 2.5 million guests since 2004.