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Neom’s flying taxi takes to the skies

  • Test flight builds on $191m Neom JV with Germany’s Volocopter
  • Both aim to scale electric air taxi industry
  • Neom to power them from wind and solar energy

Plans to introduce flying taxis to Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion Neom development have accelerated after a series of successful test flights in the kingdom.

Neom entered into a $191.2 million investment and joint venture with German aircraft manufacturer Volocopter in 2021.

The tests lasted over a week and built on 18 months of collaboration between Neom, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and Volocopter.

It marks the first time an electronic Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft has received a special flight authorisation in Saudi Arabia.

The trials focused on the flight performance of the Volocopter aircraft in local climate and environmental conditions.

It also tested its integration into the local unmanned aircraft traffic management system.

Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO of Neom, described the successful flights as “a tangible example of Neom as a global accelerator and incubator of solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges”.

Located in a vast region in the northwest of the kingdom, Neom is at the heart of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 drive to diversify the country’s economy.

It covers 26,500 sq km, and claims that it will be powered entirely renewable energy.

Volocopter expects to obtain type certification of its VoloCity air taxi in 2024.

Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, president of the GACA, said the safe and successful test flight “represents an important milestone of the Saudi aviation sector”.

The aircraft will be used in a variety of roles across the futuristic city, including as air taxis and emergency response vehicles.

Volocopter recently started production of VoloCity at its facilities in Bruchsal, Germany, with a capacity to deliver over 50 aircraft a year.

Saudia, the national flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, previously announced a deal with Germany’s Lilium for the proposed development of an eVTOL network across the kingdom which could see the airline purchase 100 jets.

According to figures released by Alton Aviation Consultancy, more than $8 billion has been raised by major advanced air mobility manufacturers. Customers worldwide have put in 12,000 orders.

UAE flying taxi ambitions taking off

The UAE is also moving forward with its flying taxi ambitions.

Last month, Mohammed Faisal al Dossari, a senior director at UAE General Civil Aviation Authority said regulations on so-called vertiports – micro-scale airports that can support the expected growth of VTOLs – are likely to be published in the fourth quarter of 2023 and implemented in the first quarter of 2024.

Abu Dhabi’s Monarch Holding has signed a deal with China’s EHang Holdings to build and operate electric powered air taxis and cargo drones in the UAE.

Odys Aviation, a hybrid-electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft developer from California, is also planning to set up a regional HQ in Abu Dhabi.

The company said it is aiming to launch a prototype in 2025.