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Saudia Took off 70 Years Ago

SAUDIA (Saudi Arabian Airlines) started out in 1945 with a single twin-engine DC-3 Dakota HZ-AAX given to King Abdul Aziz as a gift by the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt following their historic meeting at the Suez Canal on February 14. This DC-3 was used on routes between Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dhahran and carried both passengers and cargo.

Just a few months later, two more DC-3s were purchased, and these formed the nucleus of what in a few years would become one of the world’s largest airlines. By the following year, the airline was set up as an operating agency of the Ministry of Defense. The airline’s first airport and operating base was located at Kandara, close to what is today the downtown area of Jeddah. Haj pilgrims were flown to Jeddah from Lydda, Palestine, and other countries. That same year, the airline requested permission to charter flights to London.

By 1947, two more Dakotas were purchased and scheduled services were operated both within the kingdom and to regional destinations such as Cairo and Damascus. The first scheduled domestic service took place on March 14. Service to Beirut began the following year, and in 1949, the first of 5 Bristol 170s, Mark 21-E variant, adaptable for passengers or freight, was delivered, marking the first foray into the use of different aircraft.

In 1952, 5 4-engine Douglas DC-4s were purchased, having a greater range which permitted operations to Middle Eastern destinations, and so service started to Amman and Karachi. The next year, services between Dhahran and Beirut were inaugurated in addition to service to Port Sudan, Asmara, Istanbul, and Kuwait. SAUDIA was growing each year by leaps and bounds.

The airline’s first pressurized aircrafts – 10 Convair 340s – were purchased and delivered between 1954 and 1955, and that same year, the first flight landed at TUU station by a Dakota – a DC-3 with 24 seats on a sand runway.

By the time the airline celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1955, because of its service, it had brought all outlying communities of the Kingdom to within a few hours’ journey of each other, both to and from Riyadh and Jeddah – the local transport hub for the annual Haj pilgrimage. By then, the airline’s first maintenance shops were built in Jeddah.

In April of 1959, a daily air shuttle service began between Jeddah and Riyadh using the pressurized Convair-Liners.

Today, SAUDIA has some 139 aircrafts, including the latest and most advanced wide-bodied jets presently available: B747-400s, B747-300s, B747-100s, B777-200s, Airbus A300-600s, MD-11s and MD90s.