Air Transport World

Arabian night into day.(Saudi Arabian Airlines)

JEDDAH - If ATW had a "most improved airline" award, Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) undoubtedly would have won it last year. That was the year in which Dr. Khaled Ben-Bakr took over as director general of the government-owned carrier that marks it 50th anniversary this year.

The largest airline in the Middle East with a fleet of 113 aircraft, Saudia long has rated among the industry's least efficient carriers, especially in aircraft utilization, as indicated by the fact that in 1993, each of the 19 Lockheed L-1011s averaged fewer than 6 hr. in the air. Productivity also has been low - in 1993, Saudia, with a work force of 24,000, flew a similar number of passenger kilometers as Canadian Airlines International did with 16,000 employees. Ben-Bakr noted that 70% of the work was being done by 10% of the staff when he arrived. And financially, Saudia has had nothing of which to be proud. The last time it made a profit was in 1984.

There is a reason for this lackluster performance. As a previous chief executive said: "The commonly applied indicators of operating surplus or loss are not relevant yardsticks for gauging the performance of Saudia. This is more properly measured in terms of the airline's contribution to the improvement of living standards in Saudi Arabia and to the furtherance of industrial and commercial activity that benefits a large section of the world's working community." And of course, Saudia has a special status as the flag carrier of the nation that houses Islam's two holiest shrines and is visited by millions of pilgrims each year.

While agreeing that its special status makes comparing Saudia with other airlines difficult, Ben-Bakr believes that its performance and efficiency can be improved and he has implemented a number of measures that have made his carrier customer-conscious. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.