The new Riyadh Air will become the first digitally born airline that embraces emerging technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI), the World Aviation Festival was told this week.
Technology giant IBM shared the stage with the Middle Eastern ‘restart’ carrier’s chief executive Tony Douglas to explain what an airline unencumbered by legacy tech might look like.
Dee Waddell, IBM global managing director travel and transportation, said: “The concept we are pushing this year is about AI is real and we are starting to see some of the implications AI is having in our world from a business perspective.
“It’s not about you need use cases, it’s about how you leverage AI in every aspect of your business. And it’s about bringing that together in a common approach because trusted, explainable AI is critically important.
“We recognise today the challenges our industry is experiencing. They are continuing and these are the negative aspects of the challenges of our industry; fuel, sustainability, economic crises, pandemics. But we always come back.
“I would like to move the discussion to a different aspect. This is about how we harness disruption and become a bold leader so we can drive forward no matter what the situation is.
“It’s about disruption and harnessing the power of disruption, particularly in innovations for the future.
“We have this rare moment to recreate some of this legacy that’s been holding us back for a number of years. I’m hoping we have bold leaders to move us forward. I know the aviation industry can be a challenging place, but it can move forward for a better world.”
Douglas said Riyadh Air will be a new national carrier for Saudi Arabia, the G20’s fastest growing economy and one that has an average age of 29 and the world’s highest adoption of Apple devices.
He said the airline aims to be a world leader in sustainability and also have an “obsessional attention to detail” in terms of the guest experience and the ways its customers want to engage with the brand as “genuine digital natives”.
“We have the gift of no legacy,” Douglas said. “We’re the largest commercial aviation restart for decades. We have the opportunity, it’s in our gift, to respond to what the market wants.
“People choose brands. Brands do not choose customers. What our population wants to choose is the ability to digitally engage. That’s how the lifestyle operates. They operate online, order offer, through marketplaces for everything.
“We have to have more in common with Amazon, with Uber or noon.com than with traditional legacy systems. It’s a real privilege, it’s super exciting but also an opportunity to be a pioneer…to do things in a different way.
“We have a blank sheet of pepper and the gift of all gifts, no legacy, and the ability to work with many agile boutique companies, as well as IBM, to deploy technology that’s used every day in our space.”
Douglas said Riyadh Air intends to connect more places round the world that are currently under served with flights, like China and Korea, to connect its citizens with the world and enable people to visit where Portuguese footballing legend Cristiano Renaldo now lives.