Qatar Airways is preparing to launch domestic flights in Saudi Arabia.

The airline is in the process of applying for an air operator’s certificate from the Saudi authorities, having won the licence to operate domestic and international fights in Saudi Arabia at the end of 2012.

Qatar Airways’ chief executive officer Akbar Al-Baker said at a press conference in Dubai that he hoped the airline would be operational by the middle of next year.

He said that the domestic Saudi operations would not fly under the Qatar Airways’ name, but will be owned and managed by the Qatari airline.

Initially the airline will only operate flights from a select number of airports before it expands across the Kingdom.

“We do realise that Saudi Arabia is an immense market for domestic flights – we operate as domestic carrier and maybe at later date we will have a Saudi partner to operate international flights,” he said.

Bahrain’s Gulf Air was the other airline to win a licence to launch flights in Saudi Arabia at the end of last year.

At the end of 2011, the General Authority for Civil Aviation (Gaca) announced that it would allow foreign airlines to bid for licences to operate domestic and international flights from Saudi Arabia’s airports. Presently, only state-backed carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) and low-cost airline Nasair operate domestic flights.

The Saudi domestic aviation market is a difficult market for private operators to work in due to price caps imposed on domestic flights and the national airline Saudi Airlines benefiting from subsidised fuel prices.