Germany’s air taxi developer Lilium sees “tremendous opportunities” in the Middle East, particularly the GCC, where the development of megacities calls for solutions to minimise traffic and slash carbon emissions.
Munich-based Lilium is looking at potential opportunities in the region including the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, for its electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) vehicles, Sebastien Borel, senior vice president of commercial at Lilium, told The National.
"We are talking to many players in region. Whether or not it lands, it depends on them and us from a production perspective committing to the Middle East," he said.
"Europe, the US and Middle East will be our strongest regions, so we will have to balance the offering in each of these regions in a timely manner for [production] slots."
This comes after Saudia signed an initial agreement with Lilium in October to buy 100 of its aircraft to serve its domestic network.
With this deal, Saudia became the first airline in the Middle East and North Africa to introduce all-electric aircraft to its network, according to Lilium.
Saudia will use the aircraft for point-to-point connections as well as feeder connections to its hubs for business-class passengers.
"The Middle East offers tremendous opportunities, with its megacities, urban development, megaprojects, so they can start planning with eVTOL in mind," Mr Borel said.
"This part of the world is one of the most attractive regions because it's new and there's lot of demand to avoid traffic and cut carbon emissions."
GCC countries such as the Emirates have "tons of opportunities" for eVTOLs as the premium fares will initially be affordable mainly for the "higher middle-class", he said.
Lilium is seeking to replace road trips and short-haul journeys by aircraft and helicopters with its zero-operations-emissions jets.
Amid a push for economic diversification away from oil, GCC countries are talking to aircraft manufacturers about knowledge sharing, hiring locals and setting up domestic manufacturing plants.
Lilium is considering these needs as part of its discussions with potential customers in the region, Mr Borel said.
"We have a lot of those requests in the region to bring knowledge sharing, technical know-how, training and production. We are very interested in this," he said.
"We are having those discussion and we will see if it lands somewhere. We’re contemplating having such activities with key countries," Mr Borel said, adding that it is a "great opportunity" for sustainable operations and job creation.
In the first phase of commercial operations, Lilium is targeting the premium general and business aviation markets. This includes charter operators, fractional ownership and high-net-worth individuals.
In the second phase, Lilium plans to roll out the six-passenger shuttle configuration to address demand for short regional services.
Through sales in Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Florida, southern France, Andalusia, along with Norway, Benelux, Germany and northern Italy, Lilium is targeting prime locations with high demand for premium air mobility, and where sustainability is a main priority.
Asked how Lilium is tackling challenges facing the industry such as certification and raising funding, Mr Borel said that the company seeks the "right partners" for partnership agreements who can help with capital, landing sites (so-called verti-ports), regulatory approvals and real estate.