March 29, 2023

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Boeing Secures Big Order With Airlines in Saudi Arabia

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Boeing said on Tuesday that it had secured orders for dozens of 787 Dreamliner jets with a pair of Saudi Arabian airlines, providing a boost to the airplane, which has faced lengthy delivery delays since late 2020.

Riyadh Air, a new airline owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and Saudia Airlines, also owned by the government, will each buy 39 jets, Boeing said. Together, the orders are worth tens of billions of dollars at list prices, though large orders are typically heavily discounted. The deals are part of an effort by Saudi Arabia to become a global aviation hub, copying a business model used by other Middle Eastern countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“The new airline reflects the ambitious vision of Saudi Arabia to be at the core of shaping the future of global air travel,” Tony Douglas, the chief executive of Riyadh Air and the former top executive at Etihad Airways, said in a statement.

Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, described the deal as a demonstration of the “enduring strategic partnership” between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia’s longstanding relationship with the United States has been strained over the past five years as the kingdom expanded its alliances with other global powers including China, India and Russia.

On the campaign trail, President Biden pledged to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” over its human rights record, and the two governments traded harsh words in October after Saudi Arabia supported an oil production cut by OPEC and its allies despite pleas from American officials to wait.

Still, U.S.-Saudi business and investment ties remain deep. The vast majority of Saudi Arabia’s weaponry and defensive systems are manufactured by American companies.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, praised the deals, saying in a statement that they would support 140,000 jobs across the country, many of which do not require a college degree. The Saudi airlines will also use General Electric engines on their new planes.

“This partnership is another milestone in eight decades of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and American industry,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “Our administration looks forward to working with Saudi Arabia and all partners in the Middle East to support a more prosperous, secure and integrated region, which ultimately benefits the American people.”

Under the agreements, Riyadh Air has the option to buy 33 more 787s, while Saudia has the option for an additional 10 jets. Saudia currently flies more than 50 Boeing planes, including 777 and 787 models.

The order from the Saudi airlines is a sign of the growing strength of the global travel rebound. Last month, Air India ordered 220 Boeing airplanes and 250 from Airbus. The airline is planning a major expansion after the Indian government sold it to a private conglomerate, the Tata Group, last year. In December, United Airlines announced plans to buy 100 787 jets.

The 787 is a twin-aisle plane typically used on popular or long routes. Riyadh Air is buying 787-9 planes, which can carry about 300 passengers. Saudia will buy that model and the 787-10, which can carry more than 330 passengers. Single-aisle planes like the Boeing 737 Max carry fewer passengers and are more commonly used for shorter trips.

In the last few years, U.S. regulators have repeatedly forced Boeing to pause deliveries of the 787 to address quality concerns, including between late January and late February. Deliveries were previously on hold for more than a year ending in August 2022 and for a five-month stretch from late 2020 to early 2021.

Vivian Nereim contributed reporting.

Niraj Chokshi

2023-03-14 15:41:16

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