An artist’s impression of the CityAirbus transport system, which, in the future, several passengers could share on a journey. Courtesy Airbus
An artist’s impression of the CityAirbus transport system, which, in the future, several passengers could share on a journey. Courtesy Airbus

Dubai to Abu Dhabi in a flying taxi? Airbus looks to revolutionise the daily commute



The daily commute is a grind for millions of people, whether it is into Manhattan, Tokyo or along the E11 from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

But a radical solution of the kind you would normally expect to see in a sci-fi movie could be on the horizon courtesy of Airbus.

It revealed in its report, Future of urban mobility: My kind of flyover, that it is trying to create an autonomous flying vehicle platform for individual passenger and cargo transport. In other words, a flying taxi.

Flight tests of the first vehicle prototype are slated for the end of next year.

“Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics, are most of the way there,” said Rodin Lyasoff, the project executive of A3 – Airbus Group’s innovation unit.

The project is known as Vahana and will need reliable sense-and-avoid technology, which is being introduced in cars by tech companies such as Google.

The report said that transport service providers are one target group for such vehicles, with a system that could operate in a similar way to car-sharing applications in which travellers book a vehicle through a smartphone app.

“We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide,” said Mr Lyasoff.

“In as little as 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionise urban travel for millions of people.”

The project’s team has agreed on a vehicle design and is beginning to build and test vehicle subsystems.

Rather than this just being technological pie in the sky, Tom Enders, Airbus Group’s chief executive, believes it is achievable.

“I’m no big fan of Star Wars, but it’s not crazy to imagine that one day our big cities will have flying cars making their way along roads in the sky,” he said. “In a not too distant future, we’ll use our smartphones to book a fully automated flying taxi that will land outside our front door – without any pilot.”

Also revealed in the report is the CityAirbus – an airborne vehicle with multiple propellers that would resemble a drone. While initially operated by a pilot “to allow for quick entry into the market”, it would switch over to full autonomous operations once regulations are in place, the report said.

Unlike the Vahana project, several passengers would share the aircraft, making it more affordable.

Developers in France and Germany have been working on the concept for two years.

Airbus could face competition from the likes of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop ultra-fast transport system. This can potentially move containers or up to 40 people in a single capsule at speeds of up to 1,100 kilometres per hour, which could cut journey times between Abu Dhabi and Dubai to 15 minutes.

Rob Lloyd, the chief executive of Hyperloop Technologies, said in March that he hopes the UAE will be one of the early adopters of the technology.

ioxborrow@thenational.ae

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The flights

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