Saudi, UAE airlines prepare for surge in Hajj pilgrim numbers

Airlines around the Gulf have leased additional aircraft to meet the demands of growing number of pilgrims headed to Saudi Arabia's cities
Airlines, Transport, Hajj pilgrims


Airlines around the region are leasing additional aircraft to cater for expected increase in Hajj pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia this season.

Flynas, Saudi Arabia’s first low-cost airline, expects the number of Hajj passengers using the airline this year to rise almost 10 percent to 200,000, according to an airline spokesperson, , up from 175,000 in 2018.

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A Flynas spokesperson told Arabian Business that Hajj passengers will be flown from 17 countries using 13 additional leased aircraft.

Among the aircraft being used to transport pilgrims to Saudi Arabia are two Airbus A380s, which were recently used to transport Malaysian pilgrims from Kuala Lampur to King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah and Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz airport in Madinah.

Flynas is the first Saudi airline to utilise the A380.

Other leased aircraft used by Flynas this season include Boeing 747 and 767s, as well as – for the first time – Airbus A330neo aircraft.

Recently, Flynas signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Airbus to purchase 20 A321XLR and A4321LR aircraft which have a long-range operational performance of up to 11 hours – 8,700 kilometres – in addition to fuel consumption savings of 30 percent.

In a separate statement, Flynas said that the aircraft will allow the airline to “take better advantage” of upcoming Hajj and Umrah seasons as it works to realise its long-term goal of transporting 5 million pilgrims annually.

More pilgrims expected

Around the region, airline have announced additional aircraft for the Hajj season as pilgrim numbers rise.

Earlier in July, for example, Saudia announced that it had added 17 aircraft to its 165-aircraft fleet to help transport 1.2 million domestic and foreign pilgrims from approximately 100 destinations for Hajj season. According to Saudia, the number of pilgrims it expects to transport this year has risen by about 10 percent when compared to 2018.

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In the UAE, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways said it will operate 15 extra flights between July 28 and August 25 to transport pilgrims to Madinah, in addition to six charter flights dedicated to the General Authority of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Zayed Foundation and Abu Dhabi police.

“This year we expect 25,000 Hajj travellers on our flights, with most originating in Australia, Pakistan, Morocco, United Kingdom, India and Indonesia,” Houssam Weiss, head of UAE sales at Etihad Airways said recently.

Dubai carrier Emirates airline has expanded its services to Jeddah and Madinah with an additional 46 flights between July 27 and August 22, running in parallel to scheduled services to the two cities.

Although the airline declined to give expected passenger numbers, it has said it expects “thousands” from destinations including Pakistan, the United States, Senegal, the UK, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Africa and Ivory Coast.

In Bahrain, national carrier Gulf Air has announced 38 extra flights in addition to its regularly scheduled 3 to 4 daily flights to Jeddah and 7 weekly flights to Madinah.

In nearby Kuwait, Director General of Civil Aviation Yousif Al-Fawazan told local media that six Kuwait Airways aircraft are expected to transport 1,336 passengers for the Hajj season.

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