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

Short Url
Updated 16 June 2024
Follow

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.
 

 


Have a sunkissed and safe summer

Excessive sun exposure can cause collagen and elastin in the skin to break down, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and sagging.
Updated 4 sec ago
Follow

Have a sunkissed and safe summer

  • Experts advise on how you can get that golden glow and save your skin from damage, cancer

RIYADH: As the summertime rolls in, recreational tanning becomes a popular trend among young Saudi men and women who seek a sunkissed glow all year-round. Despite the allure of a bronzed complexion, the dangers associated with recreational tanning cannot be overlooked, especially if one skips applying sunscreen.

Jumana Ghassan, 25, told Arab News that she remains steadfast in her belief that sunscreen will get in the way of a proper bronze tan.

“I never use sunscreen when I tan, which is something I do every weekend, because I believe SPF does not allow me to get a golden and glowy tan.”

Excessive sun exposure can cause collagen and elastin in the skin to break down, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and sagging. (Supplied)

She is convinced that by skipping this vital step in her skincare routine, she will achieve a deeper, more even tan.

Sun exposure is the number one cause of skin cancer, with cases increasing in Saudi Arabia because of the high levels of sunlight throughout the year.   

According to research conducted at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences in 2020, the two most common types of skin cancer in Saudi Arabia are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, making up 51.4 percent and 22.5 percent of cases respectively.

The proper amount of sunscreen for the face is equivalent to two-finger lengths. (Supplied)

While sunlight exposure has some benefits, exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from tanning beds or the sun can have detrimental effects on the skin.

Oncology specialist at King’s College Hospital London in Jeddah, Dr. Ali Al-Bayer, told Arab News: “Prolonged exposure to UV rays can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to potential mutations and abnormal cell growth.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Sun exposure is the number one cause of skin cancer, with cases increasing in Saudi Arabia because of the high levels of sunlight throughout the year.   

• While sunlight exposure has some benefits, exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from tanning beds or the sun can have detrimental effects on the skin.

This damage is cumulative over time and increases the risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, he added.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp. (Supplied)

Al-Bayer said that it was crucial to try to avoid direct sunlight from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dermatologist Dr. Fatima Al-Satouf told Arab News that sunscreen acted as a barrier, shielding the skin from the sun’s rays and preventing damage.

“Overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays can lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, resulting in wrinkles, age spots and sagging,” she explained.

The proper amount of sunscreen for the face is equivalent to two-finger lengths. (Supplied)

She added that by applying sunscreen regularly and correctly, people could significantly reduce their risk of skin damage and premature aging caused by sun exposure.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp.

Al-Bayer said that in nearly all cases, skin cancer appeared in areas that were most exposed to the sun.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp. (Supplied)

“It is important to choose a sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) and broad spectrum coverage to ensure maximum protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” he said.

Al-Bayer said that the use of sunscreen should be combined with other sun-safe practices, such as seeking shade during peak sun hours and avoiding unnecessary sun exposure.

Consulting with a dermatologist for skin checks and advice on sunscreen use can further enhance a sun protection regimen.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp. (Supplied)

“Regularly checking your skin for signs of sun damage, like freckles, moles, or sunspots, can help detect potential issues early on,” Al-Bayer said.

Al-Satouf said that it was recommended to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside to allow time for it to be absorbed into the skin.

“Reapplying sunscreen every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating, is crucial to maintain its effectiveness.”

Al-Satouf added that the proper amount of sunscreen for the face is equivalent to two-finger lengths.

In addition to sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, such as hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts, can further shield the skin from sun exposure.

Resorting to tanning beds is dangerous as they emit concentrated UV radiation that can be even more damaging than natural sunlight.

In fact, indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

To achieve a tan while minimizing the risk of sun damage, there are several strategies that individuals can adopt.

Rasha Al-Ghamdi told Arab News: “After a skin cancer scare, I opted to use spray tan to get my desired shade, and my skin has never felt this healthy and supple.”

Self-tanning products and spray tans offer a safer alternative to traditional sunbathing or tanning beds.

These products can help to achieve a sun-kissed glow without the damaging effects of UV radiation.

It is important to choose self-tanning products that contain safe and effective ingredients and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and maintenance.

Young people must prioritize their skin health and take measures to protect themselves from the dangers of recreational tanning.

By promoting sun-safe practices and embracing natural beauty, we can work toward a healthier and more inclusive beauty culture for all.

 


Kernels of promise in Asir as farmers ready for summer harvest

Updated 15 sec ago
Follow

Kernels of promise in Asir as farmers ready for summer harvest

  • Time running out as annual summer rains loom
  • Crops are of superior quality, quantity this year

RIYADH: As the summer rains loom, farmers in Saudi Arabia’s Sarawat Mountains of Asir are in a race against time to bring in their wheat harvest.

This year’s crop is notable for both its abundance and superior quality, the Saudi Press Agency reported recently.

The wheat-cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem.

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

While some farmers still employ time-honored harvesting methods using sickles, many have embraced modern machinery, including large harvesters and handheld devices.

“Our terraced fields yield a variety of grains,” Issa Al-Waymani, a local farmer, told the SPA. “Besides different wheat varieties, we also grow barley and white and yellow corn.”

He highlighted the diverse grain production of Asir’s terraces. The region’s various types of wheat include Al-Seeb, Al-Mabia, Al-Qiyad and Al-Sumeira.

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

“We know it is time to harvest when the ears turn yellow and reach full maturity,” Al-Waymani said regarding the wheat-harvesting process. After harvesting, the crops are transported to designated threshing areas known locally as Al-Jareen.

Al-Waymani said these threshing grounds have evolved over time. “Traditionally, cattle or camels would drag a large stone weighing over 100 kg over the crop to separate the grains from their husks, called Al-Hatha,” he said.

FASTFACTS

• While some farmers in Asir still employ time-honored harvesting methods using sickles, many have embraced modern machinery.

• Asir’s farmers take great care to protect their crops from birds and monkeys until the harvest is complete.

Today, however, modern methods have largely replaced these traditional practices. “Now we use large harvesters or smaller machines operated by agricultural tractors,” Al-Waymani added. “We manually feed the crop into these machines after it has been sun-dried for at least 14 days.”

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

The region’s wheat production is concentrated along the Sarawat mountain range, from Dhahran Al-Janub in the south to Balqarn in the north, the report explained.

Areas including Al-Soudah, Tabab, Billahmer and Billasmar are renowned for producing the highest quality grains in the region for traditional local markets and the summer festivals in Asir.

Asir’s farmers take great care to protect their crops from birds and monkeys until the harvest is complete. After threshing and winnowing, the crop is weighed for Zakat purposes before being marketed.

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

Wheat remains one of the most sought-after crops in local markets, with prices ranging from $106 to $160 for a 50 kg bag.

Scientific studies have highlighted the nutritional benefits of this local wheat, which is packed with essential fatty acids, folic acid, B-complex vitamins, and fiber.

The produce is also thought to lower cholesterol and aid digestion, the SPA report stated.

 

 


Summer fruit season kicks off in AlUla

The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms. (SPA)
Updated 21 sec ago
Follow

Summer fruit season kicks off in AlUla

  • The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms, known for producing the highest quality mangoes, grapes, figs, dates and citrus fruits, as well as gum arabic, a traditional plant highly valued for its medicinal and cosmetic uses

ALULA: The Royal Commission for AlUla has announced the launch of the area’s summer fruit season, which offers a variety of the finest local products at the farmers market in Manshiya Plaza, from July 17 to 24.

AlUla’s seasonal goods project aims to provide support to farmers and small business-owning families and increase sustainable demand for organic fruits and other products, which will provide new opportunities for economic diversification within and beyond the agricultural community.

The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms. (SPA)

The project will feature four annual events: the first for summer fruit products from July 17 to 24, the second for dates from mid-October to mid-November, the third for gum arabic during November, and the fourth for citrus fruits for nine days starting in early January 2025.

The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms, known for producing the highest quality mangoes, grapes, figs, dates and citrus fruits, as well as gum arabic, a traditional plant highly valued for its medicinal and cosmetic uses.

The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms. (SPA)

The Manshiya market, a hub of community and agricultural life in AlUla, will host vendors and buyers of fresh local produce, boosting economic activity beyond traditional crop cycles.

The market attracts increasing numbers of visitors to its annual agricultural events, showcasing the diversity of the region’s crops and how fresh products are used in famous local dishes.

The project contributes to fostering a spirit of cooperation and partnership between AlUla’s farming community and local entities, aligning with the commission’s efforts to enhance sustainability and resilience in the economic sector.

 


Saudi local bread attracts visitors at Al-Baha fest

Updated 34 sec ago
Follow

Saudi local bread attracts visitors at Al-Baha fest

  • Each region in the Kingdom keeps a record that reflects the culture, customs, and traditions of its inhabitants, passed down from generation to generation

AL-BAHA: The art of skillfully preparing local bread from the Al-Baha region has attracted visitors and residents to the second Dar Festival at Al-Mousa Heritage Village in Al-Baha.

Muqana bread is considered a staple food for the people of the region. It is made from wheat flour mixed with water, then placed on a thin stone heated by lighting a fire beneath it.

The dough is then covered with a dish-like object made of either pottery or thin iron. It is then covered with ash and embers, and a small fire is lit on top until it is ready to be taken out and served.

The Culinary Arts Commission has chosen muqana bread as the region’s main dish as part of a project to designate official dishes for each of Saudi Arabia’s areas. (SPA)

It is common for many locals to compete in making the largest loaf as a sign of hospitality.

Each region in the Kingdom keeps a record that reflects the culture, customs, and traditions of its inhabitants, passed down from generation to generation.

The Culinary Arts Commission has chosen muqana bread as the region’s main dish as part of a project to designate official dishes for each of the Kingdom’s areas.

The selection is made according to criteria set by the National and Regional Dishes Narratives project. This initiative takes into account cultural and heritage value; the historic importance of the dish; its expression of the region’s geography and food culture; and its contribution to supporting the local economy.

 


Taif Municipality ramps up services as tourism surges

Taif is currently enjoying moderate weather and a remarkable natural revival following recent heavy rains. (SPA)
Updated 43 sec ago
Follow

Taif Municipality ramps up services as tourism surges

  • The seasonal municipal work plans are focused on immediate waste removal and the upkeep of irrigation networks, electrical installations, and fountains

TAIF: As Taif experiences a boom in summer tourism, more than 240 field teams from the municipality are working around the clock to ensure the city’s key attractions are well-maintained to welcome visitors.

The focus is on children’s play areas, family seating areas, sports equipment, and walkways at popular destinations such as Al-Hada, Al-Shafa, wilderness parks, and public gardens.

The seasonal municipal work plans are focused on immediate waste removal and the upkeep of irrigation networks, electrical installations, and fountains.

The municipality has also initiated a program to redistribute waste containers based on tourist needs and has bolstered its workforce with additional equipment in neighborhoods, markets, and tourist sites.

Taif is currently enjoying moderate weather and a remarkable natural revival following recent heavy rains.