In another first for the UAE, the Gulf nation has become the first in the world to publish national regulations related to vertiports.
For the uninitiated, vertiports are the equivalent of an airport, except they cater to VTOLs (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft and don’t exactly require long, extensive runways.
The published regulations cover the design and operational requirements of vertiports while ensuring a regulatory environment that supports the efficient and safe operation of VTOL aircraft.
While VTOLs are primarily in use by the military at the moment, the aspirations of the aviation sector and of countries like the UAE are on the civilian side of things. The desire is for VTOLs to become mainstream and affordable, to bring futuristic concepts like flying taxis to the real, mundane world.
The global advanced aerial mobility market (AAM), which includes VTOLs, drones and other aerial vehicles, was estimated to be worth $8.93 billion in 2022 and is expected to hit around $45.12 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 22.45% during the forecast period 2022 to 2030, according to recent data. Forecast valuations of this market have fluctuated wildly, depending on who you ask, but the general consensus is that the momentum forward will be sustained and strong, as this is a vertical that has long been a dream of many governments and companies.
In October of last year, X2, a two-seater electric VTOL aircraft by Chinese electronic vehicle maker XPeng, made its first public flight in Dubai, maintaining an air time of 90 seconds. The test flight was described by XPeng as an "important base for the next generation of flying cars."
This foray with XPend however is just one of many that the UAE has been involved in in recent years, as Abu Dhabi and Dubai have been signing on with multiple local and international companies to help make their aspirations for commercial flight a reality.
In November of that same year, Abu Dhabi Airports signed an MoU with French engineering and operations firm Groupe ADP to explore the possibilities of deploying flying taxis for use by incoming travellers. In June, electric aircraft company Eve Holding, owned by Brazilian plane maker Embraer, and UAE-based charter flight operator Falcon Aviation Services, signed a letter of intent for up to 35 flying taxis.
We are seeing action on the startup level too. Hub71-based neurobotX is collaborating with different aviation companies to combine state-of-the-art simulation, haptics, digital marketing, PR, business development, synthetic data and deep learning to help expedite and optimise go-to-market and investment opportunities for their EVTOL clients.
Considerations for the future
The rapid and increasing development of eVTOL aircraft has created a need for new infrastructure, new networks and new regulatory approaches.
Airspace, especially at the low altitudes VTOLs will operate at, is uncharted territory for the most part. Remember the amount of red tape that Amazon had to sift through in the US to get their drone delivery service off the ground? With ‘flying cars and taxis,’ especially considering the human element for all involved, be it passengers, people in their homes, pedestrians and beyond, there is a lot to consider, especially given the fact that many eVTOL manufacturers aim to launch their aircraft by 2024, with a potential global network envisioned by 2030.
Is the world truly ready for the lift-off of flying cars? We’ll soon find out.