Flight-hailing app could take off in Gulf region next year, CEO says

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OneFlight International's brand ambassador and three-time Super Bowl Champion John Elway. (Twitter: @ONEflight_Intl)
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OneFlight International CEO Ferren Rajput. (Instagram)
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Updated 16 September 2022

Flight-hailing app could take off in Gulf region next year, CEO says

  • ONEflight International operates as the go-between the customer and a bank of aircraft owned privately by third parties

NEW YORK: A flight-hailing service that began in the US 12 years ago will enter the Middle East within the next year, Ferren Rajput, founder and CEO of ONEflight International, told Arab News on the fringes of SALT New York on Wednesday.

The service allows people to book a private jet in as little as five hours, but Rajput said with the introduction of a new app, currently in development, the company hopes to reduce the waiting time in a process he calls the “Uberization of private jet flying.”

Since he started his company 12 years ago it has expanded to Europe, and he hopes that by 2023 Gulf Arabs will have the opportunity to use the service.

“We haven’t left them (the Gulf region) out,” Rajput said. “We just haven’t expanded into the Middle East.”

“I think the Middle East is a prime market, especially for our kind of model. We just haven’t gone there, but we’re certainly looking to go out there within the next year.”

ONEflight International, much like the hailing apps, operates as the go-between the customer and a bank of aircraft owned privately by third parties.

He said that the service is not used by the super-rich — they still tend to own their own planes — instead it is attracting wealthier players in the business market.

“Right now, you would say a majority of customers are in the range of probably 45 on up to about 60. We’re seeing a growth in the 35-40 range.”

But he believes as the business expands to the Gulf, the age range will fall further.

“I would tend to believe in the UAE that it’s going to be even lower because of the wealth. So we’re estimating there’s a huge influx of those that are the up-and-comers of the 35-45 range.”

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when most airlines were laying off staff, he said that his business had flourished.

“Our industry actually jumped up by a good 22  percent,” he said referring to the US market. “The European market seems to be jumping up now. A little lagged behind the US market. And that has really come around due to the fact that people didn’t want to fly private.”

He believes that those still using his business post-pandemic will stay with it.

SALT is a global thought-leadership and networking forum encompassing finance, technology and geopolitics. Its biannual events and technology solutions connect leading asset managers and entrepreneurs with top asset owners, investment advisers and policy experts.


Pentagon splits $9 billion cloud contract between 4 firms

Updated 08 December 2022

Pentagon splits $9 billion cloud contract between 4 firms

WASHINGTON: Google, Oracle, Microsoft and Amazon will share in the Pentagon’s $9 billion contract to build its cloud computing network, a year after accusations of politicization over the previously announced contract and a protracted legal battle resulted in the military starting over in its award process.
The Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability is envisioned to provide access to unclassified, secret and top-secret data to military personnel all over the globe. It is anticipated to serve as a backbone for the Pentagon’s modern war operations, which will rely heavily on unmanned aircraft and space communications satellites, but will still need a way to quickly get the intelligence from those platforms to troops on the ground.
The contract will be awarded in parts, with a total estimated completion date of June 2028, the Pentagon said in a statement.
Competition is intense to snap up big corporate and government cloud contracts — awards to build global computing networks where information is stored, shared and secured over the Internet instead of on local computer systems. The Pentagon’s award is seen as one of the most coveted because it’s a stamp of approval in a market where ensuring a client’s data security is important.
“It’s the most important cloud deal to come out of the Beltway,” said analyst Daniel Ives, who monitors the cloud industry for Wedbush Securities. “It’s about the Pentagon as a reference customer. It says significant accolades about what they think about that vendor, and that’s the best reference customer you could have in that world.”
Last July, the Pentagon announced it was canceling its previous cloud computing award, then named JEDI. At the time, the Pentagon said that due to delays in proceeding with the contract, technology had changed to the extent that the old contract, which was awarded to Microsoft, no longer met DOD’s needs.
It did not mention the legal challenges behind those delays, which had come from Amazon, the losing bidder. Amazon had questioned whether former President Donald Trump’s administration had steered the contract toward Microsoft due to Trump’s adversarial relationship with Amazon’s chief executive officer at the time, Jeff Bezos.
In July when the cancelation was announced, the Pentagon’s chief information officer, John Sherman, said it was “likely” both Amazon and Microsoft would get some portion of the business in a new award.
A report by the Pentagon’s inspector general did not find evidence of improper influence, but it said it could not determine the extent of administration interactions with Pentagon decision-makers because the White House would not allow unfettered access to witnesses.
Forrester analyst Devin Dickerson said awarding the contract to four companies instead of one shows a “multicloud strategy” that could improve the Pentagon’s bargaining position with major cloud providers and make it easier for individual offices within the Defense Department to acquire cloud technologies and services.


Electric vehicles emerge as key driver of Saudi-China climate-change fight

Updated 08 December 2022

Electric vehicles emerge as key driver of Saudi-China climate-change fight

  • China is the world’s largest market for EVs, accounting for 53 percent of the global share 
  • Saudi Arabia has launched its own EV brand, Ceer, and owns a stake in US maker Lucid

RIYADH: China and Saudi Arabia are two of the energy powerhouses of the world and, as such, the world’s gaze turns to them in discussions around climate change.

While much of the focus is on the Kingdom’s oil production, or Beijing’s coal-mining activities, the two nations are only just starting to get recognition for their shared vision for decarbonization via electric vehicles.

This is an area of shared enthusiasm, and one where Saudi Arabia and China can further work together to lead innovation and implementation.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has handed the EV industry a prominent role in its economic diversification plan known as Vision 2030.

Tesla cars at a charging station in Beijing, main, and, below, a Lucid luxury electric vehicle on display. (AFP)

The world’s largest oil exporter has identified the sector as one on the cusp of a boom as the globe moves away from fossil fuels, and is investing not just in overseas firms, but also in homegrown products.

The overseas backing takes the form of the US-firm Lucid. In 2018, the Public Investment Fund poured $1billion into the company and now has a 60 percent stake. The investment prompted Lucid to announce in February 2022, that it would build its first international vehicle assembly plant in King Abdullah Economic City, north of Jeddah. 
To further underline its commitment to the sector, the Saudi government struck a deal with Lucid to buy up to 100,000 EVs over a 10-year period.

It is not just Lucid that will be producing EVs in the Kingdom. In October, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled Saudi Arabia’s own EV brand: Ceer.

Lithium batteries for electric vehicles on the inspection line at a factory in Nanjing in China’s eastern Jiangsu province. (AFP)

Like Lucid, this company will produce vehicles from a plant in KAEC, with construction on the $69 million facility due to begin in early 2023.

Ceer is a joint venture with FoxConn — the Taiwan-based firm that is the largest private sector employer in China — and will further cement the ties between Saudi Arabia and the economies of the Far East.

Ceer will license component technology from BMW to design and build vehicles, including sedans and sport utility vehicles, in the Kingdom while Foxconn will develop the electrical architecture of the vehicles, resulting in a portfolio of products that will lead in infotainment, connectivity and autonomous driving technologies.

Of course, the Kingdom is not turning itself into one of the leading EV producers in the world just to appease its domestic market. Exporting these vehicles is a key part of not just Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification strategy but in reducing global emissions.

Penetrating the Chinese market could prove a challenge. Beijing has been encouraging its citizens to switch to EVs by offering subsidies for purchases. This has helped China become the largest market for EVs, accounting for 53 percent of the global share.

US-based Lucid is planning to build its first overseas vehicle assembly plant north of Jeddah. (AFP)

The Chinese government forecasts that EVs will account for 50 percent of all new car sales in the country by 2035, suggesting the appetite for such vehicles will continue to be high.

Yet while firms such as Tesla are doing well in the market — selling 83,135 cars in September in what was its best month for sales in the country — China has a thriving production sector, meaning the reliance on imports is low.

However, as is the case in many countries, one of the main barriers for mass take-up of EVs is higher purchase price than for petrol vehicles.

Saudi Arabia could find itself in a position to use its growing EV production hub being built just north of Jeddah to make affordable vehicles for what is the largest market in the world.

Should it crack that nut, the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goal of raising non-oil exports to 50 percent of GDP looks eminently reachable.


Saudi-Chinese cooperation scales new heights with each passing year

Updated 08 December 2022

Saudi-Chinese cooperation scales new heights with each passing year

  • 2022 turned out to be the year when Sino-Saudi collaborative projects in various fields truly prospered
  • China seeking to bolster its energy ties with the Gulf countries to secure adequate oil supply

RIYADH: Saudi-Chinese ties have prospered in 2022 amid the high cooperation efforts between the countries across various fields, including aviation, energy, tourism, artificial intelligence, technology and more.

On Nov.27, Saudi Arabia’s deputy foreign minister met with the Chinese ambassador to the Kingdom in Riyadh, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the meeting, Waleed Al-Khuraiji and Chen Weiqing reviewed bilateral relations and ways of enhancing them to serve common interests. They also discussed issues of common interest.

Aviation

Earlier this year, in October, Saudi Arabia and China signed a memorandum of understanding to boost the number of flights and stations between the two countries. 

The MoU also aims to promote air traffic growth further and bolster cooperation in the air transport sector field between both countries, Zawya reported.

Energy

In September, the regional organization Arab League announced the first of its kind Arab-China summit to be hosted by Saudi Arabia in December, reflecting a milestone in the strategic collaboration between Arab countries and the Asian giant.

According to Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post, Beijing is seeking to bolster its energy ties with the Gulf countries to secure sufficient supply.

Tourism

In September, the Saudi Tourism Authority and Shanghai-based financial firm UnionPay signed an MoU to boost the number of Chinese visitors to Saudi Arabia.

Under the agreement, the Chinese state-owned financial services company will facilitate payment operations within the Kingdom for UnionPay card holders, the Saudi Press Agency reported.  

Culture

As part of Saudi-Chinese cultural cooperation, King Abdulaziz Public Library signed an MoU and collaboration with the Bayt El-Hekma Chinese Group in April.

The agreement aims to enhance cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China in different cultural, knowledge, and language fields of interest to both sides.

It also includes exchanging publication services and cultural visits between the two countries, besides holding scientific meetings and specialized exhibitions and activating cultural commonalities through forums.  

Artificial Intelligence

In March, Riyadh-based aerospace company TAQNIA and solution provider TAQNIA ETS signed an MoU with Chinese aerospace firm Star Vision to elevate the space sector’s supply chain and work hand in hand on artificial intelligence applications and technologies.

Under the MoU, all parties will participate in collaborative research and work together to facilitate the development of top-notch space technologies, satellites, and geospatial products, trade publication Times Aerospace reported.

The MoU aims to introduce localized services and products that align with the Kingdom and the region’s strategic space and geospatial industry.

 Technology

In March, Saudi Advanced Communications and Electronics Systems Co., ACES, partnered with China Electronics Technology Group to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicle payload systems in the Kingdom.

Under the partnership, China Electronics Technology Group, the state-owned defense conglomerate specializing in dual-use electronics, aims to aid ACES in establishing a research and development center and manufacturing team for various types of unmanned aerial vehicle payload systems.  

Oil

In March, a Saudi Arabian Oil Co. unit signed an initial agreement with China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., known as Sinopec, for potential downstream collaboration in China.  

The subsidiary, Saudi Aramco Asia Company Ltd., and Sinopec aim to support Fujian Refining and Petrochemical Co. in conducting a feasibility study into the optimization and expansion of capacity, according to a statement.  

Building & Construction

In January, Saudi Aramco and the China Building Materials Academy announced plans to launch a new Nonmetallic Excellence and Innovation Center collaboratively.

Also referred to as NEXCEL, the new center will be based in Beijing and advance the use of nonmetallic materials in the building and construction sector.


Full reliance on SAF beyond reach of current aviation technology

Updated 05 December 2022

Full reliance on SAF beyond reach of current aviation technology

  • The high cost of SAF will affect its utility when compared with conventional jet fuel, according to KAPSARC

RIYADH: Although aircraft manufacturers and airlines have all aimed to increase energy efficiency over recent decades, the move to find alternatives to fossil-based fuels has been a struggle.

While the International Air Transport Association and the International Civil Aviation Organization are pushing the industry to adopt sustainable aviation fuel, the goal might be beyond the reach of current technologies, noted Riyadh-based King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center.

SAF is a term the aviation industry uses to describe nonconventional fossil-derived aviation fuel. It uses various sustainable resources, including carbon captured from the air and green hydrogen mixed with traditional jet fuel “with no changes needed to the aircraft or infrastructure,” according to Amsterdam-based SAF producer SkyNRG.

It adds that these green fuels cut emissions by 70 to 80 percent per flight.

Brian Moran, the vice president of global sustainability policy and partnerships for Boeing, explained that SAF is made from different feedstock such as biomass residue, cooking oils, or waste gases.

Brian Moran, the vice president of global sustainability policy and partnerships for Boeing. (Supplied)

Different pathways have been created to convert recycled carbon by combining it with hydrogen to produce a new fuel, Moran told Arab News in an earlier interview.

He added: “It’s not one silver bullet, but sustainable aviation fuel and low carbon fuels on the road to sustainable aviation fuels play a really vital role. And that’s why we’re so invested there.

“In the next 20 years, the world needs 43,000 new airplanes. So it’s on us to make sure that we continue this descend of emissions reduction that we have been on.”

High demand

IATA says the main challenge of SAF producers is meeting the airline demand for alternate fuel.

In 2021, airlines had ordered 14 billion liters of SAF, which “addresses the issue of whether airlines will buy the product,” added Willie Walsh, the director general of IATA, in an interview with CNBC.

The aviation sector has the second-highest energy demand in the transportation industry after the roads sector.

Willie Walsh, the director general of IATA.

Reports show that airlines are slowly moving to adopt SAF, with Qatar Airways and Emirates among them.

Qatar Airways has said 10 percent of its flights will use the fuel by 2030, while Emirates signed a memorandum of understanding with America’s GE Aviation in November 2021 to conduct an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER test flight using 100 percent SAF by the end of the year.

Pan-European aircraft manufacturer Airbus announced that all its aircraft are certified to fly with a mix of up to 50 percent SAF blended with kerosene. The aim is that all of its planes will be able to fly solely using SAF by 2030.

HIGHLIGHT

While the International Air Transport Association and the International Civil Aviation Organization are pushing the industry to adopt sustainable aviation fuel, the goal might be beyond the reach of current technologies, noted Riyadh-based King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center.

“I think quantity is the main issue at the moment. Governments should intensify the production of SAF. The reality is that airlines used every single drop of sustainable fuel that was available to us in 2021,” Walsh said in an interview issued by the association.

Even though about 100 million liters of SAF were used last year, according to Walsh, “that’s a very small amount compared to the total fuel required for the industry.”

Boosting supplies

Before 2021, only two companies globally produced SAF commercially: Finland-based Neste and Boston-based World Energy, according to the US Global Investors, a Texas-based investment adviser.

Other companies entering the field in 2021 and 2022 include Spain’s Repsol, France’s TotalEnergies, the UK’s BP, Phillips 66 and California-based Fulcrum BioEnergy.

IATA expects to see SAF production hit 7.9 billion liters by 2025, which would meet only around 2 percent of the industry’s fuel requirements. (Shutterstock)

Neste has a small annual capacity for 100,000 metric tons of SAF, but it claims to be on track to increase this to 1.5 million tons by the end of 2023 at its facilities in Europe and Singapore.

On the other hand, World Energy is planning to convert a refinery in Houston to a SAF plant, while Boeing is establishing a facility in Japan to begin researching and developing SAF.

In March, Riyadh-based Alfanar announced it had invested £1 billion ($1.3 billion) in a UK project which produces SAF from waste.

The Lighthouse Green Fuel project generates more than 180,000 metric tons annually in the UK, the firm said in a statement.

The cost factor

The high cost of SAF will affect its utility when compared with conventional jet fuel, according to KAPSARC. IATA estimates SAF generally costs twice or four times as much as any aviation fuel.

According to the Air Transport Action Group, this is happening in an industry that saw 1,478 airlines account for 2.1 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions and 12 percent of the transportation sector discharge in 2019.

That year, the industry spent $186 billion on 95 billion gallons of fuel to fly its passengers worldwide.

Fossil fuel spending will remain a deciding factor for this sector for some time. Commercial aircraft, like trains and heavy-goods vehicles, cannot rely on electric engines, as they do not provide the thrust these power-hungry vehicles demand.

IATA expects to see SAF production hit 7.9 billion liters by 2025, which would meet only around 2 percent of the industry’s fuel requirements. However, by 2050, the association says production would jump to 449 billion liters or 65 percent of the sector’s needs.


Saudi pharmaceutical market size to reach $11bn by 2026

Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi pharmaceutical market size to reach $11bn by 2026

  • Bayer aims to keep tapping into local talent to contribute to the Saudi community

RIYADH: The Saudi pharmaceutical market is worth about $8 billion, according to Samer Lezzaiq, Bayer’s managing director for Saudi Arabia.

The market is estimated to touch $11 billion in 2026, almost as big as Egypt and the UAE combined.

“There is absolutely no doubt that the Saudi pharmaceutical market is among the largest in the Middle East,” said Lezzaiq.

“If you look into the markets, you will see that, for example, the UAE’s market is about $3 billion, while Egypt is a little bit more, it’s about $5.5 billion, so Saudi is almost as big as both Egypt and the UAE,” he added.

The German inventor of Aspirin has a 1.4 percent market share in the Kingdom, about 1 percent less than the company’s share globally.

“So our pharma market share globally is 2.4 percent. We are No. 12 in the world when it comes to pharmaceuticals. In Saudi, we have 1.4 percent; the mzarket share is lower than the global average,” he said.

Bayer’s main office in Saudi Arabia is based out of Jeddah, serving the Kingdom and neighboring Gulf countries.

With a team of 170 people, Bayer aims to keep tapping into Saudi talent to contribute to the well-being of the Saudi community.

“We have 170 employees in Saudi Arabia, almost 52 percent of our workforce is Saudi nationals,” said Samer Lezzaiq, Bayer’s managing director for Saudi Arabia

“We have 170 employees in Saudi Arabia, almost 52 percent of our workforce is Saudi nationals,” he said.

Lezzaiq said that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the region in digital health. The company is utilizing digital tools to accelerate its sales in the region; it has recently closed a deal with Amazon to enhance its reach to consumers.

“Our consumer division has some dermatologically tested skin products that were launched recently. So there would be more potential to reach a larger number of consumers by partnering with third parties like Amazon. So digital today is really at the center of our strategy,” he added.

Bayer is a German company with a more than 150-year history and core competencies in healthcare and agriculture.

On March 6, 1899, Bayer AG registered the trade name Aspirin and began distributing the white powder to hospitals and clinics.