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Unmanned flights brace for take-off in Dubai

Unmanned flights UAVs Dubai Eanan
Take-off: Eanan plans to launch its industrial and inspection eVTOL aircraft next year
  • Industrial UAVs to launch in 2024
  • Safety needs proving
  • Market growing 21% a year

Terrifying to some, exciting to others, the launch of self-flying commercial aircraft in the region would represent a new chapter for the aviation industry.

Unmanned aeroplanes are in the early stages of global development. But with the industry’s biggest manufacturers Boeing and Airbus testing autonomous systems and craft, the concept is inching closer to revolutionising the future of commercial and private air travel.

In the Gulf, fairly limited steps have been taken to explore the feasibility of self-flying aircraft. To date companies have focused on developing the wider Urban Air Mobility industry. 

This involves the use of small, electric, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL aircraft, similar to helicopters and often described as ‘flying taxis’) to transport people and goods in urban areas in a faster, more environmentally sustainable way.

They offer a potential solution to the rising problem of congestion and reduced mobility in heavily populated areas.  

In April 2022, Dubai charter flight operator Falcon Aviation Services and US-based Eve Urban Air Mobility signed an agreement to roll out up to 35 battery-powered air taxis for use by tourists from the Palm Jumeirah. eVTOL vehicles have the potential to be unmanned, but it is not their primary aim. 

Launching next year

UAE technology company Eanan has just announced its intention to launch Dubai’s first unmanned commercial aircraft services by next year. 

Eanan has a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (known in the industry as UAVs) comprising five zero-emission heavy cargo and industrial inspection eVTOL craft. It is testing them for commercial use from its production facility in Dubai South. 

The Eanan team has created specialised UAVs for purposes including delivering small cargo such as medicines, food and documents; transportating large cargo and inspecting pipelines and power lines.

“These serve as the starting point for implementing our technologies into the region’s business ecosystem,” Rashid Hamdan bin Khadim Al Nuaimi, Eanan chairman, tells AGBI.

Eanan’s platforms are in an “advanced stage of readiness,”with various test flights conducted, Al Nuami says. “We anticipate our first commercial projects by next year.” 

Eanan chairman Rashid Hamdan bin Khadim Al Nuaimi
Industry challenges

UAVs and eVTOLs are part of the world’s fast-growing AAM (advanced air mobility) market, projected to be worth $110 billion globally by 2035. This represents a compound annual growth rate of 21.7 percent, according to a 2021 report by Allied Market Research. 

Eanan says that AAM has the potential to “transform economies and societies, at a time when there’s greater demand for making transportation more accessible, efficient and environmentally friendly”.

But there are challenges to overcome, including public safety concerns, cybersecurity and stringent aviation licence requirements and other regulatory hurdles, according to experts including McKinsey, which has produced a series of reports on the industry. 

UAVs offer increasing levels of autonomy that can be adopted, ranging from autopilot assistance, to remotely piloted aircraft, right up to fully autonomous aircraft that have no need for human intervention. 

For Al Nuami, the primary focus at this stage is “to achieve the required level of flight safety”.

Flying high: Eanan is working on safety and regulatory issues with partners including Dubai Civil Aviation Authority

This involves two key aspects, he says: ensuring that the technology employed meets the most stringent safety requirements and supporting the “socio-economic relations” that need to evolve to make UAVs a part of daily life.

To support this evolution, Eanan is investing in mobile applications for UAV services and working in partnership with Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Dubai Air Navigation Services, University of Dubai and others to integrate its technologies into the aviation industry. 

“We continue to search for and invest in technologies that can ensure unconditional and undeniable flight stability even under the most unfavourable external circumstances.”

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