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Neom flying taxis ‘should be ready by 2026,’ says developer

A crowd watches the Neom Volocopter aircraft on a test flight Volocopter
A crowd watches the Neom Volocopter aircraft on a test flight
  • Aircraft certification is first step
  • Test flights last summer
  • Winter Games may ground taxis

Neom could have “flying taxis” in the air by 2026 if testing and regulatory work stays on track, according to the company developing them for the Saudi giga-project. 

Borja Blond, CEO of the joint venture between Neom and German manufacturer Volocopter, said it ran successful test flights in the summer and was working with the Saudi authorities on plans to introduce the taxis to other parts of the kingdom. 

“The good news is the willingness and eagerness of the country to move forward at an incredible pace, paving the way for us to be one of the early enablers,” he said on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow

“We need to get the aircraft certified by the authorities and that’s the first challenge that we have to complete. So, it’s just a matter of time before we’re ready to launch commercial operations. Our initial thought is we should be ready by 2026.”

However, Blond added that the combination of high altitude and low temperatures could prevent the flying taxis’ use during the 2029 Asian Winter Games, which will take place in the mountainous north of Neom.

Regulators around the world are working on rulebooks for electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs, as around a dozen companies develop and test prototypes. 

At a Dubai Airshow panel discussion on Wednesday, aviation officials from the US, Canada and Germany said the phenomenon was likely to take off in earnest from around 2030 and become a feature of modern transport within only a few years. 

Blond told the audience: “Flying in a city like Riyadh or Jeddah will represent a completely different challenge. By activating Neom as a laboratory, it will help us set the right way to operate over highly congested cities.”

Neom covers vast territory in northwest Saudi Arabia and the $500 billion giga-project is part of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the country’s economy. 

The tourist island of Sindalah is due to open next year but the timetable for other Neom regions – including the futuristic cities The Line and Oxagon – remains unclear. 

The Asian Winter Games are due to take place at the mountain resort of Trojena, north of the other Neom cities, in 2029. 

“We need to understand what the limitations will be at that time. If there is an aircraft ready to operate at that altitude and temperature, we for sure will be operating there,” Blond said. 

“All aircraft have different performance based on altitude. When you add something like batteries that react to temperature change, that adds a little bit more complexity.” 

Aviation experts at the Dubai conference also discussed concerns that flying taxis would only be available to the super-rich, saying the aim was to integrate them eventually into mass transport systems. The technology would have cargo and health delivery uses too, they added.

“We want to bring this to the public. As the technology gets bigger, it will be accessible for everybody,” said panellist Jeremy Hartley, who is working with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority on “vertiports” for flying taxis. 

Blond said he was focused on making sure the technology was right, while other entities at Neom would decide how it integrates into a wider transport system. 

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