A new era in pilgrimage: Air taxis for swift Jeddah-Grand Mosque journeys

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Airborne Umrah: Saudia’s electric jets set to shuttle pilgrims between Jeddah and Grand Mosque.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Jan 13: In a groundbreaking move, Saudi Arabia’s national carrier, Saudia, is set to introduce an air service to transport pilgrims between the Red Sea city of Jeddah and the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site. Abdullah Al Shahrani, the director of the group’s corporate communication, revealed that Saudia has inked a deal for the purchase of 100 Lilium jets, German electric vertical take-off, and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

These innovative eVTOL aircraft will operate between King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah and airstrips located in Makkah hotels near the Grand Mosque and other holy sites. Al Shahrani highlighted that each eVTOL can accommodate up to six passengers. The airline is currently collaborating with legal institutions in the country to secure flying permits for this novel electric aircraft, anticipating a “qualitative” transformation in transportation during the Umrah (minor pilgrimage) and the annual Hajj pilgrimage seasons.

While the date of commissioning the service remains undisclosed, Al Shahrani emphasized that this initiative will mark the first use of such aircraft in the kingdom. Last year, nearly 2 million pilgrims from around the world performed Hajj in Saudi Arabia, signifying a return to pre-pandemic pilgrimage levels. Additionally, Umrah pilgrims reached a record 13.5 million, as announced by the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al Rabiah earlier in the week.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has recently unveiled numerous facilities to accommodate Muslims coming for Umrah. Visa holders are now permitted to enter the kingdom through all land, air, and sea outlets. Furthermore, Saudi citizens can apply to invite friends abroad for Umrah, and female pilgrims are no longer required to be escorted by male guardians.

Expanding the accessibility for religious tourism, the kingdom has granted tourist visa eligibility to expatriates residing in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, allowing them to perform Umrah regardless of their profession.

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