The Saudi carrier Flynas expects to record its first profit in 2014, after seven years of operation. In November, the airline launched a major restructuring and expansion that has included the introduction of long-haul flights and business-class services.

“This year we expect to do 80 per cent more turnover than last year,” Raja Azmi, CEO of Flynas, tells MEED. “It is because of our size. Even though our cost structure is still high, we are reaching a critical mass.”

In 2013, Flynas carried 3.3 million passengers, its best performance since its launch in 2007. This year, the airline hopes to carry 5 million passengers and by 2020, it is targeting 20 million passengers a year.

“It will be a stretch,” says Azmi. “[But we aim to achieve it through] increasing capacity, flying to more routes and increasing frequencies. There will be more depth in the short haul and more breadth in the long haul.”

Since the start of the year, Flynas has rolled out long-haul flights to Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, London Gatwick, Manchester, Casablanca, Lahore and Islamabad, with more routes planned to follow. Its strategy is to target markets where there is high demand from Hajj and Umrah pilgrims to travel to Saudi Arabia.

“A lot of people fly in via the Gulf carriers,” says Azmi. “Now we can offer the opportunity for people to fly directly to Saudi Arabia; we are going to the source markets for the religious tourism traffic, that is why we are flying to Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India and Africa.”

The carrier has also been expanding regionally and domestically, most recently adding a third destination to its routes between Saudi Arabia and Sudan, with the launch of three weekly flights from Medinah to Khartoum.

In a further break away from its low-cost carrier model, in January, Flynas launched business-class seats on its flights between Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The new business strategy is in part a response to the competition that is set to enter the Saudi aviation sector at the end of this year, as Qatar Airways and Al-Qahtani Aviation Company launch domestic carriers in the kingdom.

“Competition is inevitable wherever you go, you just have to be better than your competitor in some way or other,” says Azmi. “You have to differentiate yourself and some of the things we have been doing in the last six months has been in anticipation of that. It is not easy to operate in Saudi Arabia. There is quite a lot of restriction and regulatory requirements, and the other two will soon find that out when they come in.”

Flynas currently operates a fleet of 27 aircraft.