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Engine Of Growth: A New $8.5 Billion Deal To Help Saudia Expand And Service Its Jet Fleet

Tomas Kellner
December 07, 2021

It was just a few months before the end of World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdul Aziz in the Suez Canal and gave him a single Douglas DC-3 plane that soon started flying on domestic routes connecting Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran. The plane became the first aircraft operated by Saudia, the kingdom’s first airline.

Today, Saudia’s story reflects much of what has happened to the country’s economy since. The carrier has grown into one of the region’s largest airlines and is poised to become bigger still. It is adding 35 new Airbus A321neo and 30 Airbus A320neo jets to its fleet of more than 144 planes. The new jets will use efficient LEAP-1A jet engines developed by CFM International, a 50-50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines.

On Saturday, CFM said the value of the new engine agreement, which includes a services contract to cover engines from this new order in addition to 20 leased A320neo aircraft, is approximately US$8.5 billion at list price.

"We have been delighted with the reliability and the best-in-class support provided by CFM over the years,” said Ibrahim Al-Omar, Saudia’s director general. “We look forward to introducing further LEAP engines into our fleet and we believe that this engine will be a real asset in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”

CFM started developing the LEAP jet engine nearly two decades ago. The engineers were able to lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 15% and make it quieter than the engine’s predecessor, the CFM56 family, by using breakthrough materials and technologies. The LEAP engine has logged more than 12 million engine flight hours in just over five years of commercial service.

The engine uses parts made from advanced, lighter-weight, more heat-resistant materials, including ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) that can handle temperatures approaching 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, where even the most advanced alloys grow soft. In general, jet engines can operate more efficiently at higher temperatures.


Image credit: Airbus