‘This will be a breakthrough’: Saudia buys 100 electric planes to revolutionize domestic travel

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Updated 31 October 2022

‘This will be a breakthrough’: Saudia buys 100 electric planes to revolutionize domestic travel

‘This will be a breakthrough’: Saudia buys 100 electric planes to revolutionize domestic travel

Riyadh: Saudi Arabian Airlines has agreed to buy 100 innovative electric vertical take-off and landing planes as it seeks to connect Jeddah with the Kingdom’s leading tourist destinations, according to one of the firm’s leading officers.

Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Group Chief Marketing Officer Khaled Tash said Saudia — the airline operated by his firm — will be the first in the region to make use of the technology.

The deal has been struck with German company Lilium, which is in the final testing phase for the aircraft, with operations expected to start in two years.

Tash said Saudia will be using the aircraft to improve access to destinations alongside the Red Sea and Makkah.

“That will actually be our first priority in the next few years to connect to the airport with Makkah whereby some of our premium passengers can land in Jeddah airport, take one of these small planes and go to Makkah and back in a few minutes. That will be a breakthrough,” he said.

The executive insisted the announcement shows air mobility in Saudi Arabia is set to move into a different era.

“When we think about what’s happening in the country, Vision 2030 is about a lot of transformation that is happening in the Kingdom and maybe today’s announcement, that we made with Lilium, is probably a testimony to how Saudi national champions like Saudi airlines are walking the talk,” Tash said.

“We want to be at the forefront of innovation, EVTOLs — or electric, vertical, takeoff and landing aircrafts — are the future of air mobility, I think in especially short distances. For us to be the first Middle Eastern and North African within that region, the first airline to make this step towards EVTOLs, I think that means a lot for us,” he added.

Tash used the example of seaplanes connecting the islands of the Maldives as delivering economic benefits to tourism — something he hopes will be replicated in Saudi Arabia.

The commitment to 100 vehicles will also offer value for money for his firm, he added, saying: “By moving by big players like Saudia moving into early adoption of such a technology or such an innovation, that will have, hopefully a very good impact on the cost.”

“So if we start with Jeddah to Makkah and then with with Jeddah to the Red Sea or Jeddah to AlUla URL, or Jeddah to King Abdullah Economic City, the more use cases we can find for this, the more commercial opportunities we will have and the less cost it will be,” he said.

“So if I have an aircraft that goes 20 times between Jeddah and Makkah each day, it will definitely be cheaper than going six times a day,” he added.

As well as the economic case for buying the aircraft, there is also a clear environmental benefit.

Tash was clear that while sustainability is a very important topic under the Vision 2030 umbrella, it is also for Saudia. 

“We think that electric, in terms of these kinds of EVTOLs, is the future for aviation, and we believe that our sustainability initiatives will be further strengthened,” he said.

“It’s not the only sustainability initiative that we're doing. We’re working on so many different fronts. We have one of the youngest fleets in general in our entire fleet that also has less emissions. We are committed to work on sustainability, more and more,” Tash added.