Electric air taxi to begin test flights in Dubai next year

Vehicles for launch in the UAE on display at Dubai Airshow this week

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Electric air taxis which can carry six passengers are scheduled to begin testing in Dubai next year.

Spanish company Crisalion has been testing its zero-emission eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) vehicle Integrity since 2019 in northern Spain, and hopes to introduce them to Dubai under a new partnership with UAE firm Valtrans Transportation Systems and Services.

The Integrity was unveiled at Dubai Airshow.

Travelling on one surface and in one plane will soon be something of the past
Imad Alameddine, Valtrans Group General Manager

With a cruising speed of 180kph and a top speed of about 216kph, the fully electric vehicle is significantly quieter than conventional helicopters.

Designers said the technology, known as FlyFree, provides greater efficiency, stability, reliability, and manoeuvrability through rotor-control software that allows maximum pilot control of each propulsion unit.

“The patented FlyFree technology we have allows more stability, particularly during take off and landing,” said Carlos Poveda Rey, chief executive and founder of Crisalion Mobility.

“With the battery that we have right now, the range is around 120 kilometres and it has a maximum payload of 400kg.

“Our configuration is to carry six people – with the pilot one of them.”

In Dubai, the Roads and Transport Authority has been working with advanced air mobility companies Skyports Infrastructure and Joby Aviation to develop infrastructure for electric vertical launch vehicles.

Operations are expected to begin by 2026, with the first vertiports Dubai International Airport, Downtown Dubai, Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina.

Despite the fast developing technology, regulation to control the skies above urban areas means it could be several years before a network of such vehicles is operating in Dubai.

By the time regulation is in place, battery technology is expected to have progressed and longer range and faster vehicles will be available.

“Even when the technology is ready, the certification process is a little bit complex,” said Mr Rey.

“For aeroplanes or helicopters, we have had a certification process of at least 56 years or so. Because of this, we expect to go to markets in 2030.

“Until then, we are going to perform flight tests here in Dubai with six smaller test aircraft sometime next year, and in the wider region.”

Autonomous road vehicles

On the ground, Crisalion Mobiity has developed an autonomous fleet of road vehicles using Intellydrive technology.

It allows a convoy of autonomous vehicles to work together, controlled from a remote centre where a driver sits in a simulator, replicating the experience felt by passengers in real time.

“We can add as many vehicles as we need for a certain moment or for a specific demand, all we need is an operator,” said Manuel Heredia Ortiz, general manager of Crisalion Mobility.

“It will offer more profitability and flexibility, which is ideal for resorts, hotels or large transit tour transport and can deal well with cargo for middle to last mile routes.

“With this system, we keep a human in the loop who is solving the liability problems.”

The company also has an electric autonomous car sharing service, where driverless vehicles collect passengers on demand.

“The technology still needs to mature, and in public it still needs to evolve,” said Mr Ortiz.

“We've seen in places where we are deploying this, the technology is not yet there as some situations are still very difficult for artificial intelligence to anticipate.

“We're solving a number of problems and then you bring in other challenges to deal with, so it takes time.”

Cluster applications will allow autonomous vehicles to serve an area with a high population at different times, such as during a football match or concert.

Crisalion Mobility hopes put vehicles on the road next year in environments such as hotel resorts, golf courses, ports and airports.

California-based aircraft company Archer Aviation has signed a partnership with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office to begin air-taxi operations in the UAE from 2026.

The company’s Midnight aircraft was also on display at the Dubai Airshow.

Business ready for take-off

Consultancy McKinsey predicts the global electric aircraft market will be worth around $17.8 billion by 2028, with demand for all electric vehicles set to grow six-fold by 2030 with about 40 million units sold a year.

Imad Alameddine, Valtrans Group general manager, said certification for Crisalion to use its Integrity aircraft should be in place by 2028.

“We're going to work with Crisalion to make sure that the final product is what our region needs and what will be taking place in the future,” he said.

“We will aim to start with passenger aircraft for medical transport.

“If somebody is at a certain hospital and they need to visit another hospital for a transplant, for example, an airlift is faster and safer.

“Travelling on one surface and in one plane will soon be something of the past.”

Updated: November 16, 2023, 6:04 AM