The Saudi Air Connectivity Program (ACP) and China Eastern Airlines have announced a “strategic partnership” that will see three weekly routes from Shanghai Pudong (PVG) to Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport (RUH) from April. 

The flights will be the first regular timetabled flights by Chinese airlines between the two countries, although various airlines have provided special direct Hajj pilgrimage flights in the past. 

Saudi flag carrier Saudia began flights to Beijing from Riyadh and Jeddah in August 2023. 

The Saudi state program, part of the Ministry of Tourism, has made linking the Kingdom with China a top priority. 

“The introduction of this new route with one of the world’s largest airlines is another step towards enhancing connectivity between Saudi Arabia and China, a key priority market for us,” ACP CEO, Majid Khan told the Saudi Press Agency

China Eastern has declared its intention to add more international long-haul routes, with Greece, the UK and Argentina among new services announced for 2024. 

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China Eastern Airlines told the Saudi Press Agency : “The launch of this route marks not only the beginning of a partnership with ACP but also a new chapter in closer cooperation between the two nations. Both parties anticipate increased trade, people-to-people exchanges, and dialogues across various sectors through this ‘Air Silk Road’ initiative.”

The Shanghai-Riyadh service may soon be followed by a second China-Saudi flight, likely to southern China, after the ACP signed a cooperation agreement with Hainan Airlines last September. 

“Our strategic decision to expand in the Saudi market comes at a time of positive global momentum for both our nations. The world’s attention is increasingly drawn to opportunities in Asia and the Middle East,” Jason Liu, commercial VP of Hainan Airlines said at the time.