Neom, Saudi Arabia’s flagship futuristic city, and Germany’s Volocopter, a pioneer in urban air mobility, have completed a series of air taxi test flights, thus marking a significant milestone for the Kingdom. This is the first time an electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft has received special flight authorization and conducted test flights in the Kingdom.
The week-long flight test campaign resulted from 18 months of collaboration between Neom, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), and Volocopter. The objective was to establish and scale an electric urban air mobility ecosystem in Neom. The parties worked closely to ensure compliance with regulations and prioritize safety throughout the test campaign.
Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO of Neom, highlighted the significance of the test flight, stating that it exemplifies Neom’s role as a global accelerator and incubator of solutions to pressing challenges. Neom aims to develop innovative, sustainable, and safe mobility systems that improve livability, connectivity and reduce carbon emissions.
Abdulaziz A. Al-Duailej, President of GACA, emphasized the importance of the test flight for the Saudi aviation sector. He highlighted GACA’s commitment to enabling the safe integration of innovative air transport patterns that enhance mobility experiences and quality of life in Saudi Arabia.
Neom and Volocopter share a vision of creating a better future through clean and innovative technology. Electric air mobility is part of Neom’s multimodal transport system, which aims to revolutionize mobility and transform lives. In 2021, Neom and Volocopter established a joint venture to advance air mobility, positioning Neom as a collaborative global living lab for future transportation.
The test campaign focused on assessing the flight performance of the Volocopter aircraft in local climate and environmental conditions, as well as its integration into the local unmanned aircraft traffic management (UTM) system.
Volocopter’s eVTOLs will play a key role in Neom’s intelligent and sustainable multimodal mobility system, which will rely on 100% renewable energy from solar and wind sources. These aircraft will be used as air taxis and emergency response vehicles, offering advantages such as reduced noise, adaptability, lower operational costs, and a smaller infrastructure footprint than traditional helicopters. They also feature intelligent and autonomous capabilities to ensure safety and relevance in future contexts.
The triumphant test flight announcement solidifies Neom’s position as a leader in future mobility solutions. Neom has invested EUR 175 million and established a joint venture with Volocopter. Volocopter expects to obtain type certification for its VoloCity air taxi in 2024, paving the way for future commercial operations. Serial production of the VoloCity has already commenced in Bruchsal, Germany, with a production capacity of over 50 aircraft per year.
Air Taxis Making A Steady Influx In The GCC
In November 2022, NEOM announced making a USD 175 million investment in Volocopter. It is to be noted here that the futuristic city, located in the Tabuk Province in northwestern Saudi Arabia, is planning to have a sustainable and seamlessly connected multi-modal mobility/transportation system powered by 100% renewable energy.
In October 2022, Saudi Arabia’s national flag carrier Saudia signed an agreement with another German air taxi start-up Lilium to purchase 100 electric vertical take-offs and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Saudia made the business move as it eyes setting up of electric point-to-point connections and seamless feeder connections to the Kingdom’s business hubs.
If everything goes as per the plans, Saudia will be the first airline in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to develop a dedicated commercial eVTOL network. For Lilium, the deal will help the German venture to enter the Saudi and the broader Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) market.
Talking about GCC, Saudi’s neighbour UAE is also making similar ‘sustainable’ moves. Abu Dhabi-based construction company Monarch Holding will partner with Chinese manufacturer EHang Holdings to build electric-powered aircraft and passenger drones in the UAE capital.
The collaboration, which is in line with the ‘Abu Dhabi Industrial Strategy’, will see the companies establishing a command-and-control centre to manage the UAE’s urban air mobility autonomously and build infrastructure, vertiports, and facilities for operating electric aircraft and drones, apart from training local Emirati talents to handle these critical infrastructures.
While the project’s focus will be to improve smart and sustainable mobility to enhance Abu Dhabi’s position as the smartest city in the MENA region, the futuristic eVTOL-based transportation system will take the game to the next level by making artificial intelligence its key guiding force.
Also, United States-based air taxi start-up Odys Aviation will launch its manufacturing facility in the UAE, from where commercial eVTOL service will be launched in 2027. The company will create over 2,000 jobs in the country.
Embraer-backed electric aircraft company Eve Holding and UAE-based Falcon Aviation Services too will make 35 flying taxis and urban air mobility plans for Dubai.
The Final Verdict
A 2022 study by Dublin-based consultancy Research and Markets stated that the global all-electric aircraft sector is expected to grow by 14% to about USD 20 billion by 2030, up from USD 6 billion in 2021.
The futuristic urban transportation models of Saudi Arabia and the GCC, the two most prominent GCC countries, have put forward a strong case study of how air taxis can play a pivotal role in our cities’ ‘Sustainable Mobility’ systems.
Will the rest of the world follow the model? We have to wait and watch.
Photo Credits: Neom