California-based Odys Aviation is one of several aviation companies developing vertical take-off and landing aircraft that will cut current journey times by cars between cities by at least half.
Its Alta nine-seater hybrid-electric aircraft, which has a range of 1,200km – or 320km on electric, will transport passengers from a vertiport in Abu Dhabi to a similar landing location in Dubai in 20 minutes. This means it could deliver people from door-to-door in half an hour using localised launchpads.
It is currently being developed for unmanned cargo operations with the Middle East's biggest courier company, Aramex, and is expected to be ready by 2027.
Odys Aviation said the passenger version of the Alta aircraft, which will have a pilot, could be ready for operations a year later, following a testing phase and regulatory approval.
The development of VTOL operations in the UAE will have a transformational impact on transport and traffic, according to Vincent Frascogna, vice president of business development at Odys Aviation.
“If you could drive five minutes to a vertiport, take our aircraft and land our aircraft close to your destination in Abu Dhabi, we will probably cut your journey time in half,” he said.
“We see these aircraft as unlocking brand new opportunities, not just connecting Dubai and Abu Dhabi but Abu Dhabi with Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi with Fujairah and Abu Dhabi to Al Ain.”
The Alta aircraft will demonstrate a new direction for the aviation industry, said James Dorris, chief executive of Odys Aviation.
“We see the overall arc of aviation turning from companies [like Boeing and Airbus] that make wing and tube aircraft over and over again into what we think the future of aviation is going to be, which is much smaller and much more distributed operations,” he said.
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The UAE has been leading the way when it comes to developing advanced air mobility – in particular Dubai – where the emirate's authorities have committed to have flying taxis in operation by 2026. The first vertiports are planned for Dubai International Airport, Downtown Dubai, Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina.
Ahmed Bahrozyan, head of the Public Transport Agency at Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority, told The National last year that a ride between the vertiports would cost little more than the average Careem to hail.
While most that have been planned for the UAE are electric and have a range of between 100km and 200km, Alta's hybrid-electric propulsion systems give it a distinct advantage with its 1,200km range.
“It lets us fly from any point within the UAE to any other point without using a drop of fuel, but if you needed to fly from Dubai to Riyadh, you could do that – from downtown to downtown, city rooftop to rooftop,” said Mr Dorris.
First to market for Odys Aviation, however, will be its smaller, unmanned Laila aircraft, which will be used for cargo. The aircraft, which costs around $1.5 million at list price, has a wingspan of around six and a half metres and will be capable of carrying around 45 to 60kg.
In January, Odys Aviation signed an agreement with Aramex to develop unmanned cargo operations in the UAE and Oman.
Alaa Saoudi, Aramex’s chief operating officer for express, said they will work with Odys Aviation on a test flight programme to “demonstrate the movement of cargo between its regional locations”.
“Upon approval from regional regulatory bodies, the two companies intend to launch operations and commercial activities and expand beyond test programmes to demonstrable routes and new markets within the GCC expected by early 2028,” he said.
Aramex has launched VTOL drone last mile delivery operations in Oman on specific routes approved by the regulators, with plans to “expand to other urban areas and complex routes in 2024”, Mr Saoudi said.
He said Aramex has also been working with the regulatory entities in the UAE to establish operations this year based on its BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) programme, which aims to enable UAV deployment for commercial use through an operational framework.
In May, Odys Aviation joined the UAE's NextGen FDI programme which will see it open its regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi and establish an assembly and maintenance plant to expand its operations. The move will create more than 2,000 direct and indirect jobs in the UAE and will also see the export of the first aircraft manufactured under the “Made in the UAE” certification.
Mr Frascogna, who has 30 years of experience in commercial aviation, including 13 with Etihad Airways, said since the agreement was signed they have been talking with various organisations and entities in the UAE for maintenance, repair and overhaul services and for future manufacturing partnerships.
“Discussions are in early stages. We don't expect to be looking to manufacture our Laila aircraft until some time in 2026 but now is the time for us to cement some of those relationships and understand what that pathway is to manufacturing in the country,” he said.
“NextGen FDI has opened a lot of doors for us. It's a virtual rubber stamp to say that 'yes, Odys is accepted by the UAE', and that gives us good access to the people that we need to be speaking to progress those conversations.”