Revolution.Aero Uplift: Neom, a new future for AAM



Part of the smart city Neom will be floating. Courtesy: Neom

California, New Zealand and Australia are all competing to be early adopters of eVTOL operations. There is also Singapore, China and South Korea. The Ile-de-France region is another strong contender.

But what if there were to be an entirely fresh development – built from ground up – completely tailored to be a smart, sustainable city for the new world?

Neom, a proposed new (part-floating) city in north-western Saudi Arabia, literally means ‘new future’. There are no cars or roads here. Alternative transport solutions include shared electric mobility services, autonomous shuttles, electric boats, personal eVTOLs and delivery drones.

Enter Volocopter: Neom’s eVTOL maker of choice. The two have established a joint venture and agreed an initial order of 15 aircraft: 10 VoloCity passenger aircraft and five VoloDrone aircraft.

Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO at Neom, said: “Through this joint venture with Volocopter, we are demonstrating to the world that Neom is the ideal region to implement urban air mobility rapidly and create a fully integrated vertical mobility ecosystem.”

Al-Nasr says mobility is at the centre of the equation for 21st century urban infrastructure.

This is an extremely interesting development in advanced air mobility (AAM). Existing cities were not built for AAM operations. There are air traffic, public acceptance, safety and regulation hurdles. But in a city built to incorporate AAM operations – logistics, emergency response, and tourism – these might be mitigated.

CEO of ground infrastructure company urban-Air Port, Adrian Zanelli, tells Revolution.Aero: “It’s an exciting opportunity. I see Neom as a testbed, a first mover for the operations.”

Zanelli says places like Neom will be exciting starting places, where population density is not a huge concern and approvals to operate would be considerably easier. But he thinks it will not expand globally in that form. Urban air mobility that will eventually need to move large numbers of people and cargo.

“The one example that springs to mind is the Concorde. They couldn’t get it to work anywhere else except two routes over Atlantic. It was ultimately extremely limited,” he adds. Although Volocopter is ahead in the race to get its Part 23 certification, there will be a limited rollout of operations in places like Neom, according to Zanelli.

Neom also aims to have a zero-emission public transit system. The joint venture will be the sole operator of initial public transit routes across the $500bn city. And it is expected to be the size of Belgium (when complete).

Al-Nasr adds: “Neom is on a mission to become a global living lab for future mobility.” The first phase of construction is expected to be complete in 2025.

Volocopter chief commercial officer, Christian Bauer, says: “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be an essential part of designing and operating a completely new UAM ecosystem from the ground up without the constraint of legacy infrastructure or regulation.”

The German eVTOL maker has intentions to operate in South Korea, Singapore, Japan and France. Meanwhile, the company has reportedly cancelled plans to go forward with its SPAC, according to the German media.

Long-time aviation investor and co-founder of New Vista Acquisition Corp, Kirsten Bartok, tells Revolution.Aero: “Having these technologies especially electrification and connectivity included in the planning process of a city will provide for a seamless experience and one that brings to fruition Uber’s early idea of integrated multi-modal transportation. It is exciting.”

Perhaps Saudi Arabia’s efforts to start with a clean sheet, says Bartok, will demonstrate to the world the efficiencies that can be achieved in decades in other established legacy cities.

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Speakers include (with more to be confirmed):

Veronica Relea, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

Brian Flynn, DiamondStream Partners