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Riyadh Air Signs Pact With Delta to Access US Carrier’s Network

An attendee takes a smartphone photo of a Boeing Co. 787-9 Dreamliner passenger aircraft, operated by Riyadh Air, at the Dubai Air Show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. With Turkish Airlines and Emirates charging into Monday with potentially massive deals, the Dubai show stands to set a record last seen a decade ago, when airlines rang in more than $100 billion in commitments on a single day. (Christopher Pike/Bloomberg)

(Bloomberg) -- Riyadh Air signed a preliminary cooperation agreement with Delta Air Lines Inc. as the Saudi Arabian startup looks to establish ties with carriers globally ahead of its launch next year. 

The carriers plan to work toward a marketing agreement that would let them book customers on each other’s flights, according to a joint statement by the companies on Tuesday. The deal will make Delta Riyadh Air’s exclusive partner airline in the US. The pact is also Delta’s first tie-up with a Gulf carrier, after declining earlier opportunities, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said in an interview. 

“We were waiting for the opportunity to work with an airline that actually has a real population mass and has the economy and capital to be a standalone, independent, profitable carrier for decades to come,” Bastian said.

The plans, which are subject to regulatory approvals, will allow the carriers to expand in regions where they do not have existing partnerships. Delta and Riyadh Air said the partnership could eventually encompass other areas including maintenance, repair and overhaul work, ground handling and training, according to the statement. 

Delta and Riyadh Air also intend to explore a joint venture to further expand the partnership in the future by allowing them to coordinate routes and flight times, they said.

Riyadh Air, which is owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, will begin operations in the middle of next year, seeking to win back business that’s been taken over by carriers like Emirates Airline or Qatar Airways. It recently signed similar partnerships with airlines across several regions as it seeks to build global ties ahead of its market debut.  

Riyadh Air’s directive is to better connect the Kingdom to the world as the country looks to boost tourism and diversify its economy. 

“Given that we’re a startup, we definitely can’t do that on our own, and moreover, we wouldn’t want to,” Riyadh Air CEO Tony Douglas said. The carrier has signed deals to have a network in the Far East, “but far more importantly to us is to have incredible connection into North America.”

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