New Saudi Arabia Airline RIA eyes Etihad’s Tony Douglas as CEO: report


When reports came out that Saudi Arabia would launch a new multi-billion dollar airline named RIA, it was not known yet who would be at the helm of the new carrier as CEO. 

What information do we know about RIA, Saudi Arabia’s new airline?

What is known so far, is that Saudi Arabia has been working the past 12 months on establishing the new airline, and that the venture is backed by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

It has also been reported that the name RIA has been submitted as a preferred option for the new airline, but the final decision will likely be made by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman.

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RIA will be based out of Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport (RUH). The kingdom’s current flag carrier, Saudia, is based out of King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) in Jeddah.


RIA vs Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways?

According to reports from 2021, Saudi Arabia plans for RIA to take on the ‘Middle East Big Three’ (MEB3) carriers Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways. 

Saudi Arabia’s current flag carrier, Saudia, will reportedly focus on the religious traffic market, bringing pilgrims to Saudi Arabia’s holy sites, especially during the Hajj pilgrimage.


Who is the CEO of Saudi Arabia’s new airline RIA?

RIA has yet to appoint an official CEO, but a report from Arabian Business suggests that the Saudi Arabian airline is eyeing Etihad’s CEO Tony Douglas for the role. 

Industry sources say that Douglas, who has been CEO of Etihad since 2018, was approached by RIA and is reportedly the new airline’s ‘top choice’ to lead its operations.


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Who is Tony Douglas of Etihad?

Antony ‘Tony’ Douglas, 59, has been the CEO of Etihad Airways since 2018. Douglas previously served as chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports Company from 2013 to 2015.

Douglas was also chief executive of the Defense Equipment and Support department in the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense from 2015 to 2017. He has also held senior positions with airport operator BAA, and was also chief operating officer and group chief executive designate of construction company Laing O’Rourke. 

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Tony Douglas: career history

Douglas’ career in aviation started in 1990, when he joined British Aerospace (BAE Systems) in their regional jet production facilities. In 1996, he became the director of manufacturing and logistics at Kenwood plc. 


In 1998, Douglas  joined BAA, becoming Group Supply Chain Director, then Group Technical Director, then Managing Director of Heathrow Terminal 5 and eventually Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport in London (LHR). 

Tony holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Lancaster in the UK.


What is Tony Douglas’ achievement in Etihad?

In his 5-year role as CEO of Etihad Airways, Douglas’ poignant role has been minimizing airline loss. Prior to the pandemic, Douglas managed to rein in costs and trim Etihad’s losses by more than a third since he was appointed.

One of Douglas’ first big moves when he assumed the role as Etihad’s CEO was to broker a deal with Boeing and Airbus to cancel dozens of aircraft orders the airline no longer needed.

In March 2021, Douglas was quoted to have said that grounding Etihad’s aircraft due to the pandemic was the ‘toughest day’ of his career.

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