The UAE is “taking the right steps” to become a key player in the advanced air mobility (AAM) segment, Boeing's chief of strategy Marc Allen has said.
Mr Allen made the comments during a three-day visit to the UAE to meet key executives in the AAM sector to discuss its regulatory framework and explore potential ways to strengthen existing partnerships.
“It has been exciting and inspiring to meet some of the key leaders behind the investments in AAM infrastructure and to hear first-hand how the country is advancing the regulatory framework to bring the future of AAM closer,” Mr Allen told The National.
“We look forward to building on our strong partnerships in the UAE to unlock the future of urban mobility together.”
Boeing’s Aerospace Xelerated programme, which is run in partnership with the UAE's Tawazun Council, is investing in start-ups that propel AAM progress in the region.
Aerospace Xelerated, an accelerator for software start-ups, in January selected 11 digital services companies from around the world to join its programme, which seeks to solve key challenges facing the aerospace industry.
Boeing's strategy chief visited the UAE from October 25-27, as the US plane maker eyes the country's continuing development in the AAM sector, including its new smart transport cluster in Abu Dhabi.
The Smart and Autonomous Vehicles Industry (Savi) cluster in Masdar City was announced on October 13.
“I'm here principally because we've watched with great interest as the UAE over the last year, and most recently in the last months, has moved to build a really concrete vision of AAM,” Mr Allen said.
“I'm here on a bit of a listening tour, it fits in an important way with our enterprise objectives. We describe the future of aerospace as being producible, digital, sustainable and autonomous.”
The Savi cluster aims to develop high-tech autonomous vehicles across land, sea and air as Abu Dhabi seeks to boost its industrial sector, create jobs and further diversify the economy.
“The UAE has been so intentional about how they're thinking of building the ecosystem for all the players in not just AAM, but frankly, disruptive mobility. This is a multi-modal challenge,” Mr Allen said.
“So for us it's about learning, it's about listening, it's about sharing and understanding where there may down the road be any overlaps.”
Mr Allen urged aviation regulators around the world to hold the new generation of air taxis to the same strict safety standards as commercial jets.
Regulators must approach the safety standards in the AAM sector in the same way as commercial transport since air taxis fly over congested urban areas, even though they carry fewer passengers than commercial jets, Mr Allen said.
“As we put aircraft up at scale over urban environments, they have to operate with the same level of safety and rigour that we are all accustomed to in commercial air transport.
“We have to deliver that same safety commitment in advanced air mobility for the entire industry to be all that it can be when it emerges,” Mr Allen said, adding that stringent safety standards are required for customers to adopt the new technology.
Mr Allen also emphasised the need for global regulators to “harmonise” the rules and standards for the AAM sector globally.
Global regulators should ideally establish common requirements for certifying these aircraft but this would take time, the executive said.
“Over time, there's likely going to be productive convergence [of regulations]", he said.
Wisk Aero, a flying-taxi venture backed by Boeing, is the first candidate for certification by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of an autonomous, all-electric, vertical take-off and landing aircraft designed for passenger transport.
Boeing also entered into a joint venture with US artificial intelligence company SparkCognition to create SkyGrid, a company that specialises in unmanned traffic management systems.
“We are very focused on not just developing the airplanes but helping establish the entire ecosystem in which this multi-modal transport system will emerge,” Mr Allen said.
Asked about the market demand for urban mobility vehicles, he said the technology that underlies AAM is “clearly ready now” and the current focus is on obtaining certification.
“We are seeing in markets all around the world a very strong interest in supporting the industry's march through that certification process,” Mr Allen said.