Successful test flight of electric taxi opens up new vistas for transportation of Hajj pilgrims

Special Successful test flight of electric taxi opens up new vistas for transportation of Hajj pilgrims
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Updated 16 June 2024
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Successful test flight of electric taxi opens up new vistas for transportation of Hajj pilgrims

Successful test flight of electric taxi opens up new vistas for transportation of Hajj pilgrims
  • Self-driving electric vehicles could be shuttling pilgrims from Jeddah to Makkah by 2026
  • Saudi Arabia aims to become the first country to operate the sustainable transport technology

JEDDAH: Not so long ago, the very notion of flying cars was considered pure science fiction. However, a recent public demonstration in Saudi Arabia has shown that the technology is not only real, but could soon become a staple of the public transport and logistics network.

Officials from the Kingdom’s Ministry of Transport and Logistics, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, and the Ministry of Hajj gathered in the Saudi city of Makkah on June 12 to watch what was billed as the first successful test flight of a self-driving aerial taxi.

The EH216-S eVTOL electric aerial vehicle took off in an autonomous trial designed to showcase its potential for transporting pilgrims between the holy sites, facilitating emergency travel, delivering medical equipment, and providing logistical services.

It is the world’s first air taxi licensed by a civil aviation authority.




The EH216-S eVTOL electric aerial vehicle takes off during a trial flight in Makkah on June 12. (SPA)

Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser, the minister of transport and logistics and chairman of GACA, said the air taxi trial is part of the Kingdom’s broader initiative to provide the latest transport technologies.

“The trial was done in order to make sure the air taxi could provide services during the Hajj season,” Al-Jasser told Al Arabiya, speaking from inside the aerial vehicle.

“Pilotless and controlled from the ground, this aircraft fits in two people and can fly without fuel for a distance of up to 40 km, powered only by electricity, in full compliance with all safety parameters.”




Saudi Transport and Logistics Minister Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser (center front) watch as the electric aerial vehicle takes off during a trial flight in Makkah on June 12. (SPA)

The trial provided valuable insights and data to support GACA’s development of an advanced air mobility road map, including a regulatory framework tailored to provide safe and sustainable air transport solutions for Hajj pilgrims.

Al-Jasser said further trials and experiments would be carried out in future to allow the vehicle to fly over a longer distance and with increased speed.

“We are following up on all the technologies available in order to be among the first countries that can benefit from these services, particularly in serving Hajj pilgrims,” Al-Jasser told Al Arabiya.

The Ministry of Transport and Logistics plans to roll out the new electronic vertical take-off and landing models, or eVTOLs, by 2026. Once up and running, passengers will be able to travel between Jeddah and Makkah in less than 20 minutes.

“This groundbreaking trial is a pivotal step towards a faster, more efficient, and sustainable Hajj travel,” Al-Jasser said in a statement. “Saudi Arabia is leveraging pioneering technologies to empower pilgrims with a seamless and sustainable pilgrimage experience.”




Saudi Transport and Logistics Minister Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser (right) and Lt. Gen. Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Bassami, director of public security, try the electric aerial vehicle during a trial flight in Makkah on June 12. (SPA)

In doing so, Saudi Arabia aims to support a modern transport sector in line with the goals of Vision 2030 — the Kingdom’s economic diversification agenda.

Flying taxis are not the only technology developed under the Kingdom’s national transport and logistics strategy. Electric road vehicles and hydrogen-powered trains are also revolutionizing how the public and cargo will get from A to B.

Alongside the deployment of new vehicles, Al-Jasser said his ministry is developing smart mobility, drafting legislation and regulations, and providing experimental environments to test their real-world application.

These and other innovations, including AI-controlled traffic-management cameras and drones, are expected to help reduce passenger travel times in congested areas, particularly during emergencies, facilitate the transport of goods and medical supplies, and speed up surveillance and inspection tasks.




The EH216-S eVTOL pilotless electric aerial vehicle takes off during a trial flight in Makkah on June 12. (SPA)

Speaking after last week’s demonstration, Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, president of GACA, said he and his department are committed to developing services that will allow pilgrims to perform their rituals with ease.

“This air taxi trial marks a major advancement in integrating advanced air mobility solutions into Saudi Arabia’s aviation landscape,” he said in a statement.

“GACA is committed to enabling new safe and sustainable forms of air transport, elevating travel for pilgrims and passengers across Saudi Arabia. This trial acts as a proof of concept for multiple use cases and contributes to the advancement of mobility solutions across the Kingdom.”

He added: “We appreciate the instrumental support of Front End and EHang to mark this historic milestone for Saudi Arabia.”

Front End, a leader in integrating advanced technologies across various sectors, was the Saudi company behind last week’s demonstration, supported by its Chinese partner, EHang, a leading urban air mobility technology platform company.




A pilotless EH216-S eVTOL electric aerial vehicle is displayed at the Front End Limited Co.'s showroom. (LinkedIn photo)

“Front End is paving the way to a new era in smart mobility solutions, potentially revolutionizing Hajj transportation,” Majid Al-Ghaslan, the firm’s CEO, said in a statement.

“Aligned with Saudi Vision 2030, our purpose is to foster a ‘Connected Kingdom,’ serving as a gateway for our partners to access growth opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the wider region.

“This achievement stands as a testament to the power of government-private partnerships in accelerating new technology adoption. Partnering with EHang made this pioneering solution a reality.”

He added: “These eco-friendly marvels offer a cost-effective solution for urban transportation, tackling congestion while aligning perfectly with the Kingdom’s goals for a sustainable future. This advancement underscores Front End’s dedication to national progress and its commitment to shaping a greener, more efficient tomorrow in mobility.”

Also speaking after last week’s demonstration, Huazhi Hu, founder, CEO, and chairman of EHang, said: “This debut flight of the EH216-S pilotless eVTOL in Saudi Arabia marks a significant milestone in EHang’s ongoing internationalization and an important step forward in propelling global advanced UAM reform, showcasing the potential of our pilotless eVTOL products and solutions for widespread adoption in the Middle Eastern market.




Still image from a video showing Huazhi Hu, EHang founder, CEO and board chairman, with one of his company's air mobility vehicle in the background. (EHang video)

“Looking ahead, with the strong support of GACA and in partnership with Front End, we will work together to establish a benchmark for regular AAM operations in Saudi Arabia, driving progress in both regional and global AAM markets.”

Saudi Arabia has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into AAM solutions under the Saudi Aviation Strategy, which aims to transform the Kingdom into the Middle East’s leading aviation hub by 2030.

The strategy is unlocking more than $100 billion worth of investment, with passenger numbers growing by 26 percent in 2023 to 112 million.

Saudia, the Kingdom’s flag carrier, has unveiled plans to launch its own air taxis by 2026 to help ferry Hajj pilgrims between King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and hotels in Makkah close to the Grand Mosque. It plans to purchase around 100 aircraft.

The chosen model for these air taxis is the German-made Lilium jet. Although the initial plan is to transport pilgrims, Saudia is also looking at options to connect to various other destinations, contributing to the Kingdom’s burgeoning tourism sector.

The potential for this technology was amply demonstrated in 2021 when NEOM, Saudi Arabia’s new smart city in the Kingdom’s northwest, teamed up with German company Volocopter to establish a joint venture to scale advanced air mobility. They successfully tested a flying taxi in 2023.

Travelers making the Hajj pilgrimage will have to wait until 2026 before they can try out the flying taxis for themselves.
 

 


King Salman Global Academy spotlights India’s role in promoting Arabic language

King Salman Global Academy spotlights India’s role in promoting Arabic language
Updated 20 July 2024
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King Salman Global Academy spotlights India’s role in promoting Arabic language

King Salman Global Academy spotlights India’s role in promoting Arabic language
  • KSGAAL is hosting Arabic Language Month for Indian students and teachers
  • Initiative is in line with Human Capability Development Program of Vision 2030

NEW DELHI: India plays a significant role in promoting the Arabic language in the wake of growing commercial exchanges with Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s top linguistic institution has said, as it conducted a series of programs for Indian scholars and learners.

Students and lecturers from the Indian universities and colleges that teach Arabic courses are taking part in training sessions, workshops and competitions as part of the Arabic Language Month organized by the King Salman Global Academy for Arabic Language.

The event, which aims to develop and improve the teaching of Arabic for non-native speakers in the world’s most populous nation, began online in late June and runs until July 26.

The main host is Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, which has been teaching Arabic for decades.

“India plays a significant role in promoting the Arabic language, driven by a growing demand for learning Arabic within its vast and diverse human, linguistic and cultural landscape,” KSGAAL Secretary-General Dr. Abdullah bin Saleh Al-Washmi told Arab News on Friday.

“Despite India’s diverse multilingual landscape, there is a growing interest in learning Arabic, fueled by increasing commercial activities and cultural exchanges.”

The Arabic Language Month in India features a range of educational activities led by Saudi linguists affiliated with the KSGAAL — from competitions and workshops to enhance Arabic language teaching curricula at different educational institutions, to specialized sessions for instructors to familiarize them with the most recent teaching methodology.

“These activities are conducted in different educational institutions across India, with the primary goal of fostering stronger relationships with Indian universities that have an interest in teaching Arabic,” Al-Washmi said.

“Moreover, the Arabic Language Month serves as a platform to highlight the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts in promoting and teaching the Arabic language through innovative methods. This initiative is in line with the objectives of the Human Capability Development Program, a key component of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”

Upholding and promoting the Arabic language is part of the Vision 2030 transformation strategy, which also focuses on the development of skills and academia.

“The program also focuses on enhancing the teaching skills of Arabic language educators, both locally and globally, particularly in non-native speaking communities,” Al-Washmi said.

“These initiatives include supporting modern activities for teaching Arabic to non-native speakers, enhancing the teaching competencies of instructors, and organizing scientific competitions to discover and encourage individuals with linguistic talents.”


KSrelief continues aid projects in Lebanon, Pakistan 

KSrelief continues aid projects in Lebanon, Pakistan 
Updated 20 July 2024
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KSrelief continues aid projects in Lebanon, Pakistan 

KSrelief continues aid projects in Lebanon, Pakistan 

RIYADH: Saudi aid group, KSrelief, has distributed 25,000 bags of bread in Akkar Governorate and Miniyeh District in Lebanon.

The distribution comes as part of KSrelief’s Al-Amal Charitable Bakery project to support Syrian and Palestinian refugee families, and the host community living in northern Lebanon, benefiting 125,000 individuals.

KSrelief continues to distribute bread to refugee families in northern Lebanon. (SPA)

Elsewhere, KSrelief implemented the Saudi Noor Volunteer Program to combat blindness and eye diseases in Pakistan's provinces of Sindh and Balouchistan from May 15 to July 10.

During the program, rolled out in cooperation with the Albasar International Foundation, KSrelief's volunteer medical team examined 21,614 cases, distributed 4,683 eyeglasses, and performed 2,038 successful eye surgeries.

KSrelief implemented the Saudi Noor Volunteer Program to combat blindness and eye diseases in Pakistan's provinces of Sindh and Balouchistan from May 15 to July 10. (SPA)

 


Saudi Arabia’s Mawhiba ties up with UNESCO to promote STEM education in Arab countries

Saudi Arabia’s Mawhiba ties up with UNESCO to promote STEM education in Arab countries
Updated 20 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Mawhiba ties up with UNESCO to promote STEM education in Arab countries

Saudi Arabia’s Mawhiba ties up with UNESCO to promote STEM education in Arab countries
  • Partnership aims to enhance STEM education for students from 6th grade to 12th grade across Arab states
  • Special attention will be given to empowering Arab girls and young women, ensuring they have equal opportunities to excel in STEM fields

PARIS: Mawhiba, an endowment organization that aims to nurture talented Saudi students in the scientific field, has signed a partnership agreement with UNESCO to foster science, technology, engineering and mathematics education across Arab countries.

The agreement was signed on July 19 in Paris by Abdulaziz bin Saleh Al-Subail, Mawhiba deputy secretary-general for business development and communication, and Lidia Arthur Brito, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for natural sciences, Mawhiba said in a news release carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

Mawhiba is the short name for the King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, which was organized in 1999 in honor of Saudi Arabia’s founding king.

Brito said that the partnership aimed to enhance STEM education for students from 6th grade to 12th grade across Arab states, ”focusing on refining their scientific knowledge, nurturing creativity, and fostering critical thinking.”

It sought ”to provide young people with the necessary knowledge and capabilities and to motivate them to use science, technology, engineering and mathematics to meet global challenges,” she said.

Brito said that the experience would help in exchanging these experiences globally, adding that ”there is potential for expanding these efforts to Africa and other parts of the world to promote sustainable development goals.”

Special attention would be given to empowering Arab girls and young women, ensuring they had equal opportunities to excel in STEM fields, she said.

Mawhiba has identified 97,000 gifted students out of more than 300,000 tested in more than 100 cities and villages across the Kingdom. Its sponsorship of more than 54,000 students and its participation in international science competitions for talented youth has reaped global recognition for the Kingdom. 

Saudi students have so far won more than 397 medals and prizes in these competitions, developed in excess of 16,000 ideas, acquired 15 patents, and more than 1,000 Saudi students were accepted in the world’s top 50 prestigious universities in distinguished disciplines that met the needs of national development plans, the SPA report said.

Mawhiba Secretary-General Amal bint Abdullah Al-Hazzaa emphasized the shared commitment to empowering young Arab minds and advancing sustainable development through education and innovation. She underscored the importance of this collaboration within the framework of Saudi Vision 2030.

Central to the initiative is the MAWHIBA-UNESCO Online STEM Oasis, which will serve as a global platform for local, national and regional science and engineering fairs. 

The partnership will focus on training Arab science teachers to lead research and guide students in scientific projects, thereby enhancing the overall quality of STEM education, the Mawhiba news release said.

“Mawhiba is committed to expanding the use of the UNESCO Open Science Portal and the UNESCO Science-2-Innovation Network to build the capacity of young scientists and women in STEM education globally.

“Over the past three years, Mawhiba has supported 839 students from Arab states through enriching STEM programs, setting a precedent for regional cooperation and development in STEM education,” it added.

By joining forces with UNESCO, Mawhiba aims to amplify its ability to address global challenges such as climate change, health crises and technological disruptions, it said.


Saudi Arabia, MWL welcome ICJ ruling on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories

Saudi Arabia, MWL welcome ICJ ruling on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories
Updated 20 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia, MWL welcome ICJ ruling on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories

Saudi Arabia, MWL welcome ICJ ruling on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories
  • The Kingdom calls for practical steps to reach a just solution to the Palestinian cause
  • MWL says the ruling is "a positive step towards the human and legal right of the Palestinian people to reach a just and comprehensive solution to their cause"

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has welcomed a ruling by UN’s top court that Israel’s settlement policy on Palestinian territory breaks international law.
The Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement that the Kingdom welcomed the advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice and called for practical steps to reach a just solution to the Palestinian cause.
The World Court issued the judgment, which is non-binding, on Friday.

A sign stands in the Palestinian village of Battir, a UNESCO heritage site in the occupied West Bank south of Jerusalem, which is now threatened by Israeli settlers trying to build a new, illegal outpost. (AFP)

In a separate statement, the Saudi-based Muslim World League described the ICJ ruling as "a positive step towards the human and legal right of the Palestinian people to reach a just and comprehensive solution to their cause."

MWL Secretary-General Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, who is also chairman of the Association of Muslim Scholars, said the decision, although non-binding, ensures that Palestinians "obtain their legitimate rights to self-determination and establishing their independent state in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative and relevant international legitimacy resolutions."

The court panel found “the transfer by Israel of settlers to the West Bank and Jerusalem as well as Israel’s maintenance of their presence, is contrary to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
The ruling comes against the backdrop of Israel’s devastating bombardment on Gaza, following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israeli settlements adjacent to the Palestinian enclave.
Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem in 1967, but Palestinians consider the areas as integral part of a future independent state.

A view of Battir, a UNESCO heritage Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank south of Jerusalem, which is now threatened by Israeli settlers trying to build a new, illegal outpost. (AFP)

The Saudi Cabinet on Tuesday condemned the “continued genocidal massacres” against the Palestinian people amid Israel’s battle with Hamas in Gaza.
The Kingdom wants an independent state for the Palestinian people, encompassing the 1967 borders.
The US and regional players have been attempting to end the conflict in Gaza through a peace deal between Hamas and Israel, which would include the release of Israeli hostages and a form of lasting cessation of military activities.

(With SPA)


How Saudi Arabia and its Asian partners are driving green development ahead of COP29

How Saudi Arabia and its Asian partners are driving green development ahead of COP29
Updated 20 July 2024
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How Saudi Arabia and its Asian partners are driving green development ahead of COP29

How Saudi Arabia and its Asian partners are driving green development ahead of COP29
  • Asian nations share a common vision for climate action that does not hinder growth and prosperity
  • From the Saudi Green Initiative to Azerbaijan’s adoption of solar, Asia seeks harmony between humans and nature

QINGDAO, China: As one of the world’s largest economies and contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, China is seen as having a particular responsibility among nations to help address climate change and promote sustainable development.

As such, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization invited Asian countries to participate in a two-day Green Development Forum in Shandong earlier this month to discuss solutions for a greener future.

China’s President Xi Jinping has expressed his desire to strengthen cooperation with regional parties to work toward common social and economic development goals, while at the same time fostering harmonious coexistence between people and nature.

Representatives from various Asian countries attended the two-day Green Development Forum in Shandong, China, earlier this month to discuss solutions for a greener future. (Supplied)

Shen Yueyue, vice chair of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chair of the Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Commission of the SCO, reiterated the need to foster this link between development and the environment.

“Development is development for all, and good development is green development,” Shen said in her keynote address at the forum, which was themed: “Joining hands in green development, together promoting harmony between humans and nature.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Green development is a focus for many countries, including Saudi Arabia. Indeed, one of the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform agenda is ensuring sustainable practices in social and economic development.

Two such strategies launched by the Kingdom to promote green development and a low-carbon future are the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative.

Together, these initiatives aim to increase vegetation cover in Saudi Arabia and across the region by planting billions of trees to mitigate the effects of climate change and to help slow the rise of global temperatures in line with the Kingdom’s net-zero commitments

Another regional state that is making green development a key priority is Iran.

During the SCO conference in Shandong’s port city of Qingdao, Ali Salajegheh, vice president and head of Iran’s Department of Environment, discussed his country’s commitment to fighting climate change.

One example of this is the country’s role in hosting the International Conference on Sand and Dust Storms in 2023.

Family picture of the participants of the Green Development Forum held in Shandong, China, earlier this month. (Supplied)

However, Salajegheh believes that addressing social and political issues is crucial to preventing a deepening of the environmental crisis in the region, including the need for economic stabilization and poverty reduction.

“Developing countries should make sure of their social and economic development as the main priority because the fight against poverty and the development of health and the provision of housing and energy is still for a significant part of the developing world considered a basic priority,” he said, according to Iran’s state news agency IRNA.

These efforts and more will be on the agenda at the 29th UN Climate Change Conference — COP29 — in Baku this November. In the run-up to this major event, host nation Azerbaijan has been working hard to achieve its green development goals.

DID YOUKNOW?

Azerbaijan’s capital Baku will host COP29 in November.

COP29 Presidency aims to raise ambition and enable action.

Baku is committed to developing the nation’s renewable energy potential.

Policies include tax breaks on electric vehicles and investment in education.

Although Azerbaijan is a major player in the global oil and gas industry, ranking 20th in the world for proven oil reserves, one of the key pillars of its green development strategy is the rapid expansion of renewable energy infrastructure.

The country has made significant changes to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, begin the transition to renewable energy, and participate in the global effort to combat climate change.

The 230MW Garadagh Solar Power Plant project in Azerbaijan. (AN photo by Haifa Alshammari)

In 2020, an agreement was signed between Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Energy and UAE firm Masdar to establish the country’s first solar energy facility — the 230-megawatt Garadagh Solar Power Plant.

The project occupies 550 hectares and currently boasts 570,000 bifacial photovoltaic panels, which capture the direct light of the sun and the reflection of sunlight from the ground.

Murad Sadikhov, the Garadagh Solar Power Plant’s country manager, told Arab News the facility has thus far achieved 24-gigawatt capacity. “But we have set a very ambitious goal to reach 100 GW by 2032,” he said.

Murad Sadikhov, country manager at The 230MW Garadagh Solar Power Plant project in Azerbaijan. (AN photo by Haifa Alshammari)

Alongside the implementation of renewable energy projects, Azerbaijan is also encouraging the public to shift from using fossil fuel-intensive vehicles to adopting green modes of transport.

“The government is promoting a green agenda, not only in terms of establishing generative capacity but also on the demand side,” said Sadikhov.

“They promote electrical vehicles. They started the electromobility master plan. They hired prominent consultants. They established new rules and legislations such as the tax relief for EVs and are promoting EVs for public transportation, trying to maximize the use of electric transportation.”

Significant strides have been made in tapping Azerbaijan's immense wind energy potential. The Azerbaijan 240 MW Wind Farm, for one, is being developed by Saudi Arabia's ACWA Power. 

Azerbaijan is also investing heavily in raising public awareness about environmentally friendly practices and training the next generation of sustainability professionals. “Most of the universities now have special programs for renewable energy,” said Sadikhov.

Although green development strategies have been adopted by several nations across Asia, experts and officials are keenly aware that more needs to be done to respond to the climate challenge without undermining social and economic development.