In 1946, Saudi Arabian Airlines was established. It was considered an operating agency of the Ministry of Defense. That same year, their first airport was established in Kandara, near what now is known as Jeddah.
During the rest of the 1940s Saudi Arabian expanded, serving new cities (Cairo, Damascus and Beirut), providing a Haj Pilgrimage service flown from Lydda in British Palestine, and purchasing two more DC-3s. Saudi Arabian also received substantial logistical and mechanical help from American airline TWA, and in 1949, the first of five Bristol 170s was received. These planes allowed Saudi Arabian to carry both passenger and cargo on the same flights.
The slow but steady growth continued during the 1950s, and services were inaugurated to Istanbul, Karachi, Amman, Kuwait City, Asmara and Port Sudan. The fleet also saw a small growth during the 1950s, with five DC-4s and ten Convair 340s arriving. The CV340 was Saudi Arabian's first pressurised-cabin airplane. In 1959, the airline's first maintenance centre was inaugurated in Jeddah. Also during this decade, the very important shuttle route between Jeddah and Riyadh was established.
The 1960s became a very important decade for Saudi Arabian Airlines. In 1961, the airline bought two Boeing 720s, these jets were delivered in 1962. Thus Saudi Arabian made history by becoming the first Middle Eastern airline company to fly jets. On February 19, 1963, the airline became a registered company, with King Faizad signing the papers that declared Saudi Arabian a fully independent company. DC-6s and Boeing 707s were later bought, the airline joined the Arab Air Carriers Organization, or AACO, and services were started to Sharjah, Tehran, Khartoum, Dubai, Bombay, Tunis, Rabat, Tripoli, Frankfurt, Geneva, and London.
The 1970s brought many changes for Saudi Arabian. A new livery was introduced, the name was changed from Saudi Arabian Airlines to "Saudia", and Boeing 737 and Boeing 747 equipment began use. The 737s replaced the DC-9s. The first all-cargo flights between Saudi Arabia and Europe were also started, and Lockheed L-1011s and Fairchild F-27js were introduced. New services, including the Arabian Express no reservation shuttle flights system for the Jeddah to Riyadh route, and the Special Flight Services (SFS), were founded. Special Flight Services is still a service the airline offers for government-related and celebrity flights. Rome, Paris, Muscat, Kano, and Stockholm were inaugurated as Saudi Arabian Airlines cities.
Saudi Arabian suffered the first of two major air tragedies in 1980. Shortly after takeoff from Riyadh, a Lockheed L-1011's passengers and crew smelled smoke. The pilots were granted permission for an emergency return to the airport, fearing the quick flare-up of a cabin fire. After landing safely, the passengers panicked, madly rushing to the plane's emergency exits before they could be fully deployed. In the chaos, the doors could not be opened before smoke and fire completely filled the fuselage, killing all on board.
Some new non-route-related services opened during this decade for the airline, such as Saudia Catering. Flights were started to Bangkok, Dhaka, Mogadishu, Nairobi, New York (Saudi Arabian's flights to New York are the only flights in the world covering 4 continents: it begins in Asia, passing by Africa and Europe, before landing in North America), Madrid, Singapore, Manila, New Delhi, Islamabad, Seoul, Baghdad, Amsterdam, Colombo, Nice, Lahore,Brussels, Dakar, Kuala Lumpur, and Taipei. Horizon Class, a business class service, was established between Jeddah and Cairo, and cargo hubs were built in Brussels and Taipei. Airbus A300s, Fokker F-28s, and Cessna Citations were also added to the fleet, the Citations for the SFS service.
The 1990s brought Saudi Arabian's second tragedy: a 747 collided with a Kazakhstan Airlines jet after take off from India, leaving all the occupants in both jets dead, in the worst air collision in history. Saudi Arabian was not at fault.
Service was introduced to Orlando, Madras, Tokyo, Asmara, Washington D.C, Johannesburg, Alexandria, Athens, Milan, Malaga, and Sanaa.
Boeing 777s, McDonell Douglas MD-90s and MD-11s were introduced, smoking was banned on certain flights to Muslim countries as well as on all domestic flights, and new stewardess uniforms designed by Adnan Akbar were introduced.
During the first decade of the 2000s, the airline changed its livery again, and its name back from "Saudia" to "Saudi Arabian Airlines". In addition, Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud signed papers to conduct studies that could eventually lead to the airline's privatisation.
Other facts of interest