Saudi Arabia’s NEOM plans flying taxis in new push

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM plans flying taxis in new push
NEOM flying taxis. / bne IntelliNews
By bne Gulf bureau May 26, 2024

Saudi Arabia's futuristic megacity NEOM is gearing up to operate a fleet of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, dubbed "green air taxis", as part of its ambition to build a traffic and pollution-free urban landscape, Al Eqtesadieh reported on May 26.

NEOM is envisioned as a vast, eco-friendly urban development initiative, integral to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 to shift the Saudi economy away from oil dependency. The project aims to operate on renewable energy, support sustainable tourism, and incorporate advanced technologies, including robotics, to assist its inhabitants in daily life, with a strong commitment to environmental conservation.

NEOM has been working with German firm Volocopter since 2021 on a joint venture to deploy Volocopter's eVTOL models - the VoloCity for intracity air taxi services, the VoloRegion for intercity flights within NEOM's regions, and the VoloDrone for cargo transport.

NEOM aims to have an operational eVTOL fleet by 2025, powered fully by renewable energy sources.

"The plan is to connect all areas seamlessly with 100% renewable energy while leaving 95% of the NEOM region untouched as one of the world's largest nature reserves," said Borja Blond, CEO of the NEOM-Volocopter joint venture, at the Dubai Airshow last year.

Rather than building large runways, NEOM will rely on eVTOLs and establish safe flight corridors over less populated zones as a model for future sustainable cities, Blond added. So far, NEOM has ordered 15 Volocopter aircraft and invested $175mn in the German firm's funding round in 2022.

The green air mobility push aligns with Saudi Arabia's broader aviation ambitions, including last week's $37 billion order for 105 Airbus jets by state airline Saudia and the launch of a new Riyadh-based airline, Riyadh Air. Authorities aim to promote the kingdom as a tourist hub through such investments with the NEOM and Red Sea Developments being vanguard in projects.

Meanwhile, NEOM has also invested in US firm Boom Supersonic via the PIF into electric vehicle maker Lucid. The former is developing a sustainable supersonic airliner capable of crossing the Atlantic in 3.5 hours using alternative fuels, while the latter, which is majority-owned by the Saudi fund, is now producing cars in the country. 

Earlier in April, Saudi Arabia revised its plans for the ambitious $500bn project, a futuristic city being developed in the northwest of the country, due to concerns over financing, Nemnna, a blog covering the developments, reported. 

However, according to a Bloomberg report citing unnamed sources, The Line’s target has been scaled back to fewer than 300,000 people by the same deadline.

The Line, powered by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), envisioned a unique linear city stretching approximately 170 kilometres across the Tabuk province desert, featuring two parallel, 500-metre-tall skyscrapers. Yet, current projections have adjusted the completion expectation to just 2.4 km of The Line by 2030 due to financial hurdles and general difficulties in building the project, the US media report noted.