Air taxi developers vie for business in UAE

Enthusiasm from nation’s rulers reflected in local partnerships

The hottest competition among electric air taxi makers right now centers on the right to carry passengers in the United Arab Emirates.

Consider first two rival California companies, Archer Aviation and Joby Aviation. Archer said in October it would begin carrying passengers in UAE’s Abu Dhabi emirate in 2026. Not to be outdone, Joby in February announced it would begin carrying passengers in 2025 in the neighboring emirate of Dubai. Not long after that, Archer CEO Adam Goldstein told me his plans actually call for the first UAE passenger flights to come “as early as” 2025 with flights between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

There is also Volocopter, based near Stuttgart, Germany, which in 2017 conducted a test flight in Dubai. And in Florida, Eve Air Mobility two years ago announced plans to deliver air taxis to Falcon Aviation Services, a charter service, in 2026 for sightseeing tours from The Palm hotel on Dubai’s famous palm-shaped island. Eve’s prototype is under construction.

What is the attraction of UAE? If it’s true that the first customers for this emerging breed of aircraft will need to be wealthy, that shouldn’t be a problem. The oil-rich nation is often ranked among the wealthiest in the world in terms of gross domestic product per capita.

Also, national and regional leaders have expressed enthusiasm for advanced air mobility technology, and this has been noted by the aircraft developers. UAE has “leaned in” from “the Sheikh all the way down,” Goldstein told me in an April 4 interview. He was referring to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi. That kind of support is “great” for the electric aircraft industry that is looking for places that want to adopt early, Goldstein added.

Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, for example, tweeted a video last year that said his emirate “is set to become the world’s first city with a fully developed network of vertiports.” The video showed what appeared to be a Joby aircraft.

Of course, nothing can happen until the aircraft are certified to carry passengers. For that, rulers in UAE plan to follow the lead of FAA. “Our goal is to approve Archer’s air taxi to fly in the UAE as soon as it is certified by the FAA,” Archer’s October press release quoted Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, as saying.

The rollout could happen quickly once that certification comes, Goldstein suggested: “In the UAE, they can make decisions much different than what the regulators here can do.”

For that, and other reasons, developers are looking at UAE as one of the early proving grounds. The UAE represents a “partner” to “demonstrate the value of sustainable air travel to the world,” Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt said in the February press release announcing the Dubai plans.

Joby would operate air taxi service from four vertiports in central Dubai: Dubai International Airport (DXB), Palm Jumeirah island, Dubai Marina and Dubai Downtown near the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure.

Archer, in addition to flights between The Palm in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s Corniche waterfront district, plans to offer transportation to and from Abu Dhabi’s Zayed International Airport, as well as sightseeing flights. Archer is still identifying locations and routes with Falcon Aviation and another charter provider in UAE, Air Chateau.

Asked if Archer’s Midnight air taxi can operate in a hot, sandy desert environment, Goldstein says the company has already designed the aircraft to operate in such conditions.

“I would say the heat is probably harder than the sand. There’s no issue with ingestion of sand like there is with a helicopter into the engines,” he said, adding that there may be a few days where the temperature exceeds operating conditions.

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Air taxi developers vie for business in UAE