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UAE air taxis and drones set for take-off with China deal

UAE air taxis EHang Holdings
Air taxis and cargo drones are expected to be operating in the UAE in a few years time
  • Monarch Holding in Abu Dhabi is partnering with EHang Holdings
  • Autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs) will be made in the UAE
  • Demand for vertical take-off and landing ports is growing

A Chinese company has signed a deal to build and operate electric powered air taxis and cargo drones in the UAE as the Gulf country seeks early adopter advantage in the vertical take-off and landing transport market.

Monarch Holding in Abu Dhabi is partnering with EHang Holdings, an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) company, to establish the first manufacturing facility in the Middle East and North Africa.

The cooperation also aims to set up a command-and-control centre to manage the urban air mobility autonomously and build vertiports – mini airports that can support the landing and take-off of vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. 

Experts told AGBI that the success of the project could trigger similar initiatives across the GCC, saying the need for vertiports is “huge.” So far only one is up and running in Coventry, England, which was launched last year by Urban Air-Port. 

Hussain Ali Alomaeirah, founder and chairman of Monarch Holding, said the venture will “support the future of the transportation sector” in Abu Dhabi and the government’s smart city ambitions. 

In December the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority issued the world’s first national vertiport regulation as eVTOL manufacturers strive to launch aircraft in 2025.

A concept design for a vertiport terminal located next to Dubai International Airport (DXB) was endorsed by ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum earlier this year.

UK-based Foster + Partners said the DXB project is one of four locations currently being considered by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority as it looks to to develop a network of vertiports for air taxi services by 2026.

Airport, Terminal, PersonSupplied
A vertiport terminal by Dubai International Airport is one of four locations being considered for air taxi take-off and landing services by 2026

VPorts, a Canada-based business, has also announced agreements with key advanced air mobility (AAM) players as part of plans to establish the AAM Integrator Centre in Dubai. 

Late last year VPorts signed a 25-year exclusive lease agreement with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Aerospace Hub, renewable for a further 25 years, to establish the centre in Dubai South as part of its ambition to build and operate 1,500 vertiports around the world by 2045.

Vports has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Ras Al Khaimah Airport for the first vertiport in the emirate which will be designed for all types of eVTOL aircraft. 

“The need for quality vertiports is huge,” Andrew Charlton, managing director of Aviation Advocacy, said.

“We also need to make them vehicle agnostic so any brand of AAM can land and take off from them. It will be a disaster if only my devices can operate from my vertiports.”

Linus Benjamin Bauer, managing director of Bauer Aviation Advisory, said the establishment of the first electric aircraft manufacturing facility in Abu Dhabi could have a “significant impact” on the bigger picture in the region. 

“The UAE’s early interest in eVTOL aircraft and vertiports is a strategic move to position itself as a leader in the field,” he said.

“If successful, the manufacturing facility could attract other aviation-related businesses to the region and contribute to the growth of the UAE’s economy.”

He added: “The UAE’s eagerness to embrace these technologies could also have a ripple effect on other countries in the region, encouraging them to follow suit and invest in similar projects.

“This could potentially position the region as a leader in the development and adoption of electric aircraft technology.”

John Grant, a partner at consultancy Midas Aviation, said: “At this stage the whole eVTOL market is rapidly evolving and it makes sense for the UAE to be actively developing and exploring opportunities.

“However there is still a long way to go before we really see any commercial scale to these ventures.

“It’s positive to see the UAE at the forefront of developments but don’t expect to see commercial drones buzzing around for at least a few years.”

So far, other Gulf countries have been relatively slow to embrace the sector although Saudia, the national flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, announced a deal with Germany’s Lilium for the proposed development of an eVTOL network across the kingdom which could see the airline purchase 100 Lilium jets.

According to new figures released by Alton Aviation Consultancy, more than $8 billion has been raised by major AAM manufacturers and 12,000 orders have been placed by customers spanning the globe.

Despite zero industry revenue recognised to date, progress towards commercialisation has been made with regulators in key markets, said Alton analysts, who added that several leading AAM manufacturers have committed to launch in 2025. 

“For many stakeholders, the rubber must start meeting the road with significant milestones to be achieved,” they noted.

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