Delta Air Lines is joining Saudi Arabia’s newest airline in a deal that gives the young Gulf carrier a major U.S. partner before it even takes off on its first flight.

Delta signed a strategic agreement Tuesday at its Atlanta headquarters with the state’s newest airline, Riyadh Air, which plans to begin operations in 2025.

The memorandum of understanding sets the stage for a closer alliance between the two airlines, serving “as the foundation of a strategic partnership,” the companies shared in a statement announcing the news.

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A deep partnership

The agreement between Delta and Riyadh calls for future interline and codeshare agreements subject to regulatory approvals, the companies noted.

They also plan to explore future joint ventures. Such arrangements typically allow airlines to coordinate on prices, schedules and revenue sharing. Delta currently has joint ventures with many of its leading partner airlines, including major carriers such as Korean Air, Air France-KLM, Virgin Atlantic, LATAM and Aeromexico (although the latter contracts (currently at risk of termination amid controversy with the Biden administration).

on the tarmac at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy

The companies also teased a future frequent flyer arrangement that would potentially leverage the strength of Delta’s SkyMiles program, noting plans for a “deeper partnership that includes loyalty” and other operational elements.

Nonstop Saudi Arabia flights are planned

As part of the arrangement, Delta plans to launch future nonstop service to King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in the Saudi capital Riyadh, the companies said.

No US airlines currently fly to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi flag carrier Saudia is currently the only carrier that flies regularly scheduled service between the kingdom and the US, with nonstop flights to New York City, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.

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A tourism push funded by sovereign wealth funds

The Delta-Riyadh ties come as Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a major tourism push, due to hundreds of billions of dollars poured into its public investment fund to diversify its economy away from oil.

Riyadh Air, which launched as a single company last year, hopes to compete with other major carriers in the Persian Gulf, such as Emirates, Qatar and Etihad. Its CEO, Tony Douglas, previously headed Etihad.

The airline last year announced a firm order for 39 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, with options for 33 more.

David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Riyadh hopes to start flights by 2025 and plans to connect to 100 global destinations by 2030.

Delta is not Riyadh’s first partnership. In recent months, the new carrier has also entered into strategic agreements with Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines, among others.

Delta gets a new Gulf partner

Delta CEO Ed Bastin touted the new choices, benefits and destinations for customers in announcing the partnership with the Saudi startup airline.

“Most importantly, Riyadh Air shares Delta’s commitment to providing an elevated customer experience, which is why we look forward to building and expanding this partnership in the coming months and years,” Bastin said in a statement.

It’s also worth noting that Delta’s heightened engagement with Saudi startups comes after spending much of the last decade. Rivalry with the biggest Gulf carriers Above Entry into the US And Alleged Subsidy from the respective governments of their rivals.

The feud eventually subsided, but following the fallout, American Airlines eventually folded his own objections Rather than doubling down on its partnership with Qatar through the OneWorld Alliance, United forged its own agreement with Emirates – also a rival. Criticized once.

Delta maintains ties to Saudia through the SkyTeam alliance, but its new arrangement with Riyadh Air could give it a regional partner it hopes to one day compete with the connectivity offered by more established Gulf carriers.

The Delta-Riyadh deal also includes an exclusivity agreement that specifies that Delta will be Riyadh’s exclusive North American partner and that Riyadh will be Delta’s exclusive partner in the Saudi capital city “and beyond.”

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