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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 March 2019

Saudi Arabia launches helicopter company to service cities in the kingdom

Company is kingdom's first commercial helicopter operator

An aerial view of the Makkah Royal Clock Tower, part of the Abraj Al-Bait tower and the Grand Mosque compound during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. EPA
An aerial view of the Makkah Royal Clock Tower, part of the Abraj Al-Bait tower and the Grand Mosque compound during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. EPA

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has started the kingdom’s first commercial helicopter operator with an initial capital injection of 565 million riyals (Dh553.3m) to connect its major cities and boost access to tourist attractions.

The Public Investment Fund-backed company will provide private transport services within the main cities of Saudi Arabia and tourist trips to attractions around the kingdom, PIF said in a statement on its website on Monday.

The helicopter company "will cater to emerging demand in luxury tourism as well as untapped existing demand for urban aerial transportation", PIF said.

Saudi Arabia seeks to develop its nascent tourism sector as the world’s top oil exporter diversifies the economy from hydrocarbons and introduces social reforms.

PIF has backed mega-projects in entertainment and tourism to build the industry and encourage spending by locals and foreigners.

The kingdom, the biggest Arab economy and approximately the geographic size of Alaska, has a massive demand for domestic air travel between its major cities.

Helicopter services have the potential to whisk business executives from the Red Sea coast of Jeddah to the capital Riyadh and to Dhahran, the headquarters of Saudi Aramco, in a journey time of little more than two hours.

“It will be instrumental in meeting demand for helicopter transport within major cities in Saudi Arabia as well as supporting the development of the wider aviation sector,” PIF said.

Last month, Saudi Arabia began construction work on Neom, also a PIF-backed mega-project along the Red Sea coast that includes a nature reserve and heritage sites. It spans about 50 islands as the kingdom looks to boost the contribution of tourism sector to the economy.

PIF, the kingdom’s main investment arm that holds stakes in local and international companies such as electric car maker Tesla, is central to Riyadh’s economic diversification agenda. The fund manages $250 billion of assets.

Updated: March 13, 2019 12:21 AM

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