Saudia to end flights to Toronto as Saudi Arabia – Canada diplomatic row hits the skies

Saudi Arabia has said it is freezing all new trade with Canada, expelling its ambassador and relocating about 7,000 Saudi scholarship recipients studying in the country as the diplomatic row between the two countries reaches new heights over Canada’s so-called “interference” in the kingdom’s domestic affairs. Its government-owned national carrier Saudia has now confirmed the termination of flights between Jeddah and Toronto, the sole non-stop passenger air link between the countries.


Summary:

  • A diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Canada has escalated with the Kingdom freezing all new trade with Canada and expelling its ambassador;
  • Saudi Arabia’s national carrier Saudia will terminate its flights to Toronto from 13-Aug-2018;
  • Trade between the two countries exceeded CAN4 billion last year, according to official data from Statistics Canada.

Saudia will close its Riyadh – Jeddah – Toronto route from 13-Aug-2018 after almost five years of operation. The airline launched the flight on a three times weekly basis using Boeing 777-200ER and 777-300ER equipment from Oct-2013. A fourth weekly flight was introduced on the Riyadh – Toronto route from Nov-2016 through to Mar-2017 using a 777-300ER, before operations were exclusively concentrated on the Riydah – Jeddah – Toronto routing from Apr-2017.

In May-2017, Saudia switched from deploying the 777 to using its new 787-9 Dreamliner on the route, slightly reducing weekly seats to 1,192 in each direction, according to CAPA – Centre for Aviation analysis of OAG schedule data.

CHART – Saudia is the sole non-stop operator between Saudi Arabia and Canada, but will suspend its flights to and from Toronto from 13-Aug-2018Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG 

Saudia’s non-stop flight accounts for just over a quarter (28.5%) of the estimated traveller demand between Saudi Arabia and Canada, according to OAG traffic data for last year. Notable alternative flows are already established via the European hubs of Frankfurt, London and Paris and to a lesser extent via Istanbul, Dubai and Algiers.

Trade between the two countries exceeded CAN4 billion last year, according to official data from Statistics Canada, the government agency commissioned with producing statistics to help better understand Canada, its population, resources, economy, society, and culture. This comprised CAN1.4 billion in Canadian exports and CAN2.6 billion in Canadian imports.

The escalating diplomatic row relates to Canada’s reaction to Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights comments that at least 15 human rights defenders and women’s rights activists critical of the Saudi government had been arrested or detained arbitrarily since mid-May. In a tweet late last week the Canadian foreign ministry called for their “immediate release”.

A Saudi foreign ministry statement said it considered Canada’s call last week for the release of the detained activists as a violation of Saudi sovereignty. It described “disbelief [at] this negative unfounded comment, which was not based [on] any accurate or true information” and explained Canada’s comments represented “blatant interference in the kingdom’s domestic affairs” and “a major, unacceptable affront to the kingdom’s laws and judicial process”.