Air Chateau International, a Dubai-based private heliport operator, is planning to run an air taxi network across the Middle East, following an agreement to buy up to 100 of the next-generation aircraft from the US-based Archer Aviation.
The Dubai World Central-based company signed a preliminary agreement for the purchase of Archer's Midnight electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft worth $500 million at this week's Dubai Airshow.
This further boosts California-based Archer's footprint in the UAE: in October, it announced a partnership with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office to start all-electric air taxi operations in the UAE by 2026.
Air Chateau plans to own and operate the eVTOL air taxis in the region, it said in a statement, without specifying which countries. The company didn't respond to The National's request for comment.
As part of the agreement, a non-refundable, pre-delivery payment of $1 million will be made by Air Chateau by December 31, it said.
The two companies will subsequently work on formalising definitive agreements covering the planned purchase over the coming months, with $4 million of additional pre-delivery payments to be paid after the signing.
Australia-based Acorn Capital, which has interests in aviation financing and aircraft trading, will be Air Chateau's financial partner in the transaction.
The partnership and planned deployment are part of "heralding a transformative era in our industry", Samir Mohamed, chairman and founder of Air Chateau, said.
"Embarking on our journey into being an infrastructure provider two years ago for helicopters, today we stand at the precipice of realising our vision for the future of urban air mobility with eVTOLs in Dubai and across the UAE," he said.
The UAE has sought to become a leader in smart transport systems as part of its efforts to promote and integrate sustainability.
Smart travel is the integration of advanced technology and data-driven solutions to create efficient, sustainable and user-focused transport systems.
The global smart transport sector is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of more than 21 per cent to about $404 billion by 2032, from $48.54 billion in 2022, data from Spherical Insights and Consulting shows.
The eVTOL aircraft market, in particular, is expected to hit about $35.8 billion by 2032, from an estimated $11.2 billion last year, growing at a compound annual rate of nearly 12.4 per cent, according to Precedence Research.
Other air taxi companies also took the opportunity at the Dubai Airshow to expand. Spanish company Crisalion, for instance, which has been testing its zero-emission eVTOL vehicle Integrity since 2019 in northern Spain, hopes to begin testing them in Dubai in 2024 under a new partnership with UAE firm Valtrans Transportation Systems and Services, it said at the conference.
Air taxis are deemed to meet "what the customer demands in the UAE market" and "will revolutionise how people move in and around cities", said Adam Goldstein, founder and chief executive of Archer.