Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Global, the developer of mega-tourism projects on the kingdom's west coast, has launched the country's first seaplane company to ferry visitors between island resorts using sustainable aviation fuel as part of its conservation efforts.
Fly Red Sea has marked the take-off of its first seaplane flight, the parent company said in a statement on Thursday. It will transport guests between resorts including St Regis Red Sea Resort and Nujuma, A Ritz Carlton Reserve.
The company will initially operate a fleet of four Cessna Caravan 208 seaplanes, featuring luxury interiors, before expanding in line with the tourism destination’s development phases. It plans to grow to nine seaplanes by 2028 and to more than 20 by 2030.
"Our goal was to create a company that would allow us to maintain high standards across every guest touchpoint, that would give us the platform to explore technologies to reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint, and which would prioritise giving skilled, rewarding career opportunities to the Saudi people," John Pagano, group chief executive of Red Sea Global, said.
Large-scale tourism projects, such as the Red Sea and Amaala, are part of Saudi Arabia's efforts to diversify its economy from oil, attract tourists, create jobs and attract foreign investment.
Development of non-oil sectors, such as tourism, aviation and hospitality, are key pillars of the kingdom's Vision 2030 economic transformation agenda.
In October 2021, Red Sea Global said it is exploring more sustainable ways for visitors to fly into the ultra-luxury destination, including using hydrogen-fuelled seaplanes and more immediately available options for greener travel through carbon sequestration and use of SAF.
Fly Red Sea, which is starting operations with SAF-powered seaplanes, is also exploring the possibility of fully electric seaplanes, according to the statement on Thursday.
The new subsidiary is also working closely with hydrogen plane start-up ZeroAvia to trial retrofitting Cessna Caravan seaplanes with hydrogen-electric propulsion technology, it said.
Last month, ZeroAvia said that Saudi Arabia's Neom, Airbus and Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital have co-led the company’s latest financing round. The investment will help the start-up accelerate progress towards certification of its first engine and its aim to put hydrogen-electric engines on aeroplanes.
Fly Red Sea’s focus on sustainability is in line with Red Sea Global's regenerative tourism strategy.
Red Sea Global said it is committed to hiring Saudi citizens, with the first Saudi seaplane captain’s licence already issued to Fly Red Sea, and the first seaplane-specific engineers now hired at the destination.
At Red Sea International Airport, which is the hub of Fly Red Sea, a dedicated seaplane runway runs in parallel to the main terminal at the airport and eventually will include a dedicated seaplane terminal, according to the statement.
Red Sea International Airport is now operational, receiving its first flights last month.
Red Sea Global said its first two hotels are taking bookings and the project is welcoming its first visitors this year.
Once fully completed in 2030, the destination will comprise 50 resorts, offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites.
The destination will also include luxury marinas, golf courses, entertainment, food and beverage and leisure facilities.
Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, in 2021 created Red Sea Global by merging two government-owned developers – the Red Sea Development Company and Amaala.
Together, the two projects will create 120,000 direct and indirect jobs created by 2030. This will contribute more than 10 per cent of the one million jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector that the kingdom is seeking to create.
In May, Red Sea Global said it is considering a potential initial public offering or a real estate investment trust as part of its future growth plans, set against the backdrop of the kingdom's efforts to develop non-oil sectors.
A potential listing could be on the cards for 2026 or 2027, after the destination opens to visitors and hotels establish a financial track record, proving the financial feasibility of the tourism industry in the kingdom, Mr Pagano said at the time.