Saudi Grand mosque
Worshippers pray around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca on April 14, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: Saudi Arabia’s national carrier plans to operate an air service to transport pilgrims between the Red Sea city of Jeddah and the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, an official has said.

Saudia has contracted the purchase of 100 Lilium jets, German electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, to shuttle between the King Abdulaziz airport in Jeddah and airstrips in Mecca hotels near the Grand Mosque and other holy places, the director of the group’s corporate communication Abdullah Al Shahrani told Saudi news port Akhbar24.

The eVTOL aircraft can carry up to six passengers, the official added.

The Saudi airlines is working with legal institutions in the country to obtain flying permits for this type of electric aircraft, Al Shahrani said, expecting it to mark a “qualitative” turn in transportation during the seasons of Umrah or minor pilgrimage, and annual Hajj pilgrimage. “This aircraft will be used for the first time in the kingdom,” he added without disclosing the date of commissioning the service.

Nearly 2 million pilgrims from around the world performed Hajj, an obligatory Islamic duty, last year in Saudi Arabia, marking the return of their numbers to pre-pandemic levels.

The numbers of Umrah pilgrims reached a record 13.5 million last year, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al Rabiah said earlier this week.

Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, has in recent months unveiled a host of facilities for Muslims wishing to come to the country for Umrah. Visa holders are allowed to enter the kingdom via all land, air and sea outlets.

Saudi Arabia has allowed its citizens to apply for inviting their friends abroad to visit the kingdom and undertake Umrah. Women pilgrims are no longer required to be escorted by male guardians.

The kingdom has also said that expatriates residing in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are eligible to apply for a tourist visa, regardless of their profession, and be able to perform Umrah.