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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Advanced Air Mobility initiative is poised to revolutionize the Middle East’s aviation sector, establishing the Kingdom as a leader in sustainable technologies. 

Spearheaded by the General Authority of Civil Aviation, it encompasses a range of solutions, from unmanned aircraft systems to vertical take-off and landing aircraft. These advancements prioritize safety, reliability, and sustainability in air transport, facilitating efficient mobility while addressing environmental considerations. 

GACA President Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Duailej underscored the authority’s active efforts to accelerate AAM in Saudi Arabia through initiatives such as implementing a groundbreaking test bed with NEOM and formulating the necessary regulatory framework. 

“Advanced Air Mobility is not merely a concept; it represents a paradigm shift in how we move, commute, and ultimately, how we live,” said Al-Duailej.  

He added that the AAM strategy and roadmap would delve into the underpinning technologies, identifying use cases and the regulatory framework required to ensure safety.  

Additionally, Al-Duailej mentioned exploring the economic opportunities it presents and its potential to revolutionize passenger mobility and cargo delivery. He highlighted its impact on emergency response, medical transport, and disaster relief. 

Furthermore, he noted that the AAM roadmap is very much aligned with the measures taken by Saudi Arabia to ensure a green future.  

“Transitioning to cleaner solutions such as electric-powered aviation is essential as we battle climate change. AAM pioneers are leading the change in developing electric and hybrid-electric aircraft, marking a significant step toward achieving a sustainable and green future,” said Al-Duailej. 

GACA Vice President of Aviation Safety and Environmental Sustainability Sulaiman bin Saleh Al-Muhaimidi explained that they are not just building a new mode of transport; instead, they are “creating the backbone for the next era of economic and social development in Saudi Arabia.”  

“Successful tests across Saudi Arabia’s diverse landscapes and climate conditions have laid the groundwork for advancements that promise to alleviate traffic congestion, improve emergency medical services, and contribute to the Kingdom’s ambitious goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2060,” he added.  

As the Kingdom pursues an ambitious journey to cultivate a diverse, sustainable, and thriving economy through Vision 2030, Saleh Al-Jasser, Saudi Arabia’s minister of Transport and the chairman of the board of GACA said that “AAM represents a revolution in the way we envision transport and mobility but also a magnificent opportunity to reshape our lives, economies, and the design of our cities.”  

The minister further noted that the advancements in the aviation sector will help Saudi Arabia to emerge as a global tourism destination.  

“Advanced Air Mobility will improve safety, enhance passenger experience, empower our tourism sector’s growth, and promote long-term environmental sustainability,” added Al-Jasser.  

Building on cooperation  

International cooperation constitutes a major aspect of the AAM journey in Saudi Arabia, as the Kingdom has signed several memorandums of understanding with countries like South Korea, Singapore and China.  

GACA is also establishing joint working groups with leading international original equipment manufacturers to ensure the country is prepared to embrace AAM as soon as its safety is appropriately proven.  

Additionally, Saudi Arabia has also concluded agreements with leading companies in designing and manufacturing AAM aircraft to ensure that the Kingdom achieves an advanced position in this field, especially in the safety and development sectors. 

Moreover, several Saudi research institutions are performing relevant studies and tests with the support of GACA on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, an integral part of the AAM roadmap.  

Contribution to GDP 

The implementation of the AAM strategy is projected to contribute “tens of billions of Saudi riyals” to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product and generate thousands of jobs by 2040, according to a report published by GACA. 

The aviation body revealed its intention to identify relevant stakeholders for the AAM roadmap soon and initiate collaboration within the ecosystem to prepare for early operations. 

The report further outlined key milestones achieved by Saudi Arabia, emphasizing the sustainable development shaping the Kingdom’s aviation landscape. 

In 2021, NEOM and Volocopter formed a joint venture with the goal of advancing advanced air mobility, positioning NEOM as a collaborative, global living lab for the future of transport.  

This partnership led to the successful testing of air taxi flights in NEOM in June 2023, conducted and completed by Saudi Arabia. 

The test campaign primarily focused on evaluating the flight performance of Volocopter aircraft in the local climate and environmental conditions. It also included testing the integration of these air taxis into the local unmanned aircraft system traffic management system. 

Volocopter’s electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft are expected to play a crucial role in NEOM’s smart and sustainable multimodal mobility system. This is designed to operate on 100 percent renewable energy sourced from solar and wind energy. 

The eVTOL aircraft will serve as air taxis and emergency response vehicles in NEOM, offering advantages such as quieter operation, greater adaptability, and lower operational costs compared to traditional helicopters commonly used today.