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‘Flying taxi airports’ to get the green light in UAE

No runway or road required: Air taxis that hover, take off and land vertically may be coming to a city near you
  • Vertiports support vertical take-off and landing for driverless cars
  • Dubai to follow Coventry in England as hub for flying taxis
  • Air mobility market said to be worth $1.5trn over next 20 years

The UAE is expected to issue draft regulations on so-called vertiports – micro-scale airports that can support the expected growth of vertical take-off and landing aircraft (VTOLs) – in the first quarter of 2023.

Mohammed Faisal al Dossari, senior director, Air Navigation and Aerodromes Department, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said the regulations would likely be published in the fourth quarter of 2023 and implemented in the first quarter of 2024.

Al Dossari said the number of GCAA registered commercial drone organisations is increasing. Up to 2022, it has seen 20,000 private drone users, and registered 870 commercial drones and 181 organisations to operate drones.

His comments, made at the Airport Innovation and Development Conference at Gulf Airport Leaders’ Forum, come five years after Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and US-based Uber Technologies said work to identify best locations for “vertiports” – take-off and landing bases for driverless flying cars – was starting.

Dozens of VTOLs are at various stages of development with forecasts that the air mobility market will be worth nearly $1.5 trillion over the next 20 years.

Dubai is looking to follow in the footsteps of the English city of Coventry which this week announced it hosts what is billed as the first-ever fully functional hub for flying taxis. The site is fully functional … apart from the air taxis themselves. 

The hub’s developer, Urban-Air Port, a London-based startup, is leading the push to develop vertiports in competition with UK rival Skyports.

Surrounding the hub are charging points for electric cars and scooters.

Infrastructure for landing, recharging and taking off is a crucial part of the equation but progress has been slow.

This is demonstrated by the fact that in 2017, the RTA outlined plans to launch a “demonstration service” with passengers for flying cars in Dubai by 2020.

In 2019, Uber Air said demand-related uncertainty and challenging weather conditions were the main reasons behind its decision not to include any Middle Eastern cities on its initial list.

Dallas-Fort Worth/Frisco and Los Angeles will offer US test beds for the aerial ridesharing service, while Melbourne saw off competition from Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Sydney and Tokyo to become the first overseas city to welcome Uber Air.

More recently last year, the Saudi Arabia-based Future Investment Initiative Institute (FII-I) announced funding in Lilium, a company that specialises in electric jets which can take off and land vertically.

The Lilium seven-seater jet, which offers a sustainable and less carbon-intensive way for travellers to beat traffic, hop between cities, and connect regional destinations up to 250km, received the CRI-A01 certification basis in 2020 from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). 

At the time, the jet was thought to be the first model to go into serial production with a cruise speed of 175 miles per hour (280 kph).

Separately, the Forum heard that Dubai International’s status as the world’s busiest international airport with 29.1 million passengers is a testament to how the UAE dealt with the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic.

Last week Dubai’s DXB announced registering its busiest quarter since 2020, with Jamal al Hai, deputy CEO, Dubai Airports, saying that the figures were “the outcome of a flawless response to the pandemic”.

He added: “We are on the right track and Dubai proudly retained its position as the world’s busiest international airport in 2021.

“This is in fact the outcome of a successful handling of the crisis and what you see in Dubai today is the outcome of a flawless response to the pandemic achieved through a balance between protecting the health and wellbeing of the people while minimising impact on business and economy.”

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