Lilium’s effort to market its electric takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) around the world has gotten a boost from a 100-craft deal with Saudi Arabia’s national airline, Saudia – its first foothold in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.
As typically the case in transactions involving next-generation planes that still await certification and production launch, Lilium’s accord with the airline is wrapped in the tentative language of a memorandum of understanding outlining “the proposed development and operation by Saudia of an eVTOL network across Saudi Arabia.” Still, the deal is founded on the carrier’s plans to buy up to 100 Lilium craft as the project advances, which is a significant move unto itself.
Meanwhile, it also reflects the hardening conviction of yet another international carrier that emerging air taxis and other advanced air mobility activities (AAM) will soon be a major vector of growth in aerial transportation. Indeed, Saudia’s accord with Lilium comes in the wake of US carriers Delta and United striking major eVTOL deals with Joby, and Archer and Eve respectively.
“Saudia, building on its commitment to be an industry leading airline committed to sustainability, consider our eVTOL network project with Lilium to be an undertaking of great significance for the Kingdom’s aviation industry, and will contribute effectively to spurring sustainable tourism in Saudi using zero-emission aviation,” said the airline’s CEO, Ibrahim S. Koshy.
The plan calls for Saudia to use Lilium eVTOL craft to establish point-to-point air taxi flights around the nation, as well as for longer shuttles for business class customers to act as feeder connections into the airline’s hubs.
In addition to the undisclosed income the transaction will provide Lilium, the development also gives the company its first foothold in the MENA region, which is expected to be an early and enthusiastic adopter of eVTOL transportation.
It also links the Munich-based company an influential partner to help its work to gain regulatory approval in Saudia Arabia, and look to surrounding markets from there.
“Saudia intends to meet a growing demand for regional air mobility and offer our valued guests a superior on-board experience,” Koshy said. “The potential for such an airborne transit network is limitless.”
Its breakthrough deal with Saudia notwithstanding, Lilium is not the first eVTOL developer – or even Germany company – to reel in Saudi business.
Last year, Volocopter was tapped to create a tailor-made eVTOL network for integration into the sustainable, multi-modal public transit network in Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion-plus futuristic city, Neom.
As part of that, Volocopter is overseeing air taxi and other AAM services and infrastructure development in Neom – a cutting-edge smart city along the Saudi-Egyptian border covering 26,500 square kilometers over a 460-kilometer strip of Red Sea coast, and which is slated for initial operation in 2025.