Saudi invests in UTM group Terra Drone to develop infrastructure to support drone operations

Saudi Arabia is stepping up its bid for a stake in the advanced air mobility sector, with Wa’ed Ventures, the venture capital arm of oil and gas giant Aramco, this week investing USD14 million in drone operations and uncrewed traffic management (UTM) group Terra Drone, says a report published by Future Flight. The Japan-based company, which has previously raised USD83 million, will now establish a subsidiary in Saudi Arabia to develop services such as drone surveys and develop infrastructure that could support eVTOL aircraft operations.

According to Future Flight: “The new Terra Drone Arabia business unit is an extension of the group’s network across nine other countries and including its European division Unifly. With partners including Indra and Frequentis, the group has run flight operations and UTM management contracts in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria, Austria, Spain, and Malawi. It is also now seeking to expand in both Southeast Asia and North America.

“Through its Vision 2030 program, the Saudi government is seeking to nudge the country’s economy beyond its dependence on the energy sector. This strategy includes the Neom regional development project that will see the construction of a vast “industrial city” for which a ground-up transportation network is expected to include eVTOL air taxis and drone delivery services.

“In October 2022, government-controlled Saudi Arabian Airlines signed an agreement with eVTOL aircraft developer Lilium that could see it acquire 100 of its Lilium Jets. The airline said it intends to use the six-passenger vehicles to provide point-to-point connections and feeder flights into its main hub airports.

“Unifly, which competes with UTM providers such as Air Map and Altitude Angel, has been a partner in the European Union-backed Gulf of Finland U-Space project project to support the integration of drones and eVTOL aircraft into controlled airspace. In early 20021, this work included live flight trials in which Volocopter’s eVTOL technology demonstrator operated alongside scheduled airlines at Helsinki International Airport.

“In its home country, Terra Drone is involved in work to prepare for the 2025 Osaka Expo in the southwest of Japan. For this project, the company has just embarked on a new round of UTM demonstration trials with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

“According to company director Teppei Seki, oil and gas companies are a large part of Terra Drone’s customer base, and increasingly these entities are looking to invest in drone operators. He sees opportunities to support these companies, as well as sectors such as construction where there is a need for extensive inspection flights.

“We also want to be partners to eVTOL aircraft manufacturers and this could include providing UTM for air taxi operations,” he told Future Flight. The company, which was established in 2016, has had talks with Chinese eVTOL pioneer EHang about possible cooperation.

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