Saudi Airline Announces Plan To Buy 100 Electric Planes, As Interest In Air-Taxis Grows

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Saudi Arabia’s national airline Saudia has signed an agreement which could see it take delivery of up to 100 electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) jets.

The airline announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Nasdaq-listed Lilium at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh on October 26. The plans could lead to the airline launching a network of services around the country, with both point-to-point flights and services feeding into Saudia’s main hubs. The services are likely to be aimed at business class customers.

Lilium, which is headquartered in Germany, still needs to gain approval from regulators in Saudi Arabia before its jets can fly there.

Saudia chief executive Captain Ibrahim Koshy said the arrangement with Lilium could “contribute effectively to spurring sustainable tourism in Saudi using zero-emission aviation.”

The MoU is the first such deal for Lilum in the Middle East. However, given it is an MoU rather than a definitive agreement, there is no guarantee at this stage that it will progress. The two sides still need to complete a feasibility assessment and agree commercial terms.

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Other eVTOL companies are also eyeing up the potential of the Gulf market. On October 10, China’s XPeng held a first public demonstration flight of its X2 “flying car” in Dubai, with a 90-minute test flight. The two-seater has a maximum speed of 130km an hour.

Lilium has previously announced a number of deals with prospective customers in Europe, including business jet operator ASL Group, Spain’s Helity Copter Airlines and Norway’s AAP Aviation Group. However, the deal with Saudia is substantially larger than any of those.

It remains a matter of debate as to how quickly eVTOLs might start appearing in the skies. Consultancy firm McKinsey & Company has suggested that “advanced-air-mobility operators” could rival today’s largest airlines in terms of fleet size by 2030, although flights are likely to be very short (averaging just 18 minutes) and with far fewer passengers on board – planes are only likely to carry a handful of passengers along with a pilot.

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