Flying taxis: Dubai again plans for takeoff by 2026

Dubai, United Arab Emirates –

Dubai is again planning the takeoff of flying taxis in this futuristic city-state on the Arabian Peninsula, offering its tightest details on Monday for a promised launch by 2026.

Since 2017, the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates has promised to launch flying taxis in a city that houses the world’s tallest building and other architectural wonders. A range of different types and companies have made the most of those promises to attend the annual World Government Summit in Dubai, which kicked off this year’s edition on Monday.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, took to Twitter on Sunday to announce the resumption of the flying taxi program. This time, Dubai highlights a six-rotor electric flying taxi made by Joby Aviation of Santa Cruz, California, in a promotional video.

The inclusion of Joby Aviation, instead of the Chinese-made EHang 184 and XPeng X2 or the German-made electric Volocopter that was previously displayed in Dubai, was not explained by Emirati officials. The Joby aircraft is displayed at a stand at the World Government Summit on Monday.

“We are excited about the opportunity and are actively exploring the possibility,” said Oliver Walker-Jones, a spokesman for Joby Aviation.

Ahmad Bahrouzian, an official at the emirate’s Roads and Transport Authority, similarly told the state-owned Dubai Eye radio station on Monday that “it is early days” for the plan.

“We haven’t signed any partners yet,” he said.

Another difference in this year’s promise on flying taxis is the release of specific information about the program. The city is planning four “vertiports” by Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, Downtown Dubai, the man-made Palm Jumeirah Islands and Dubai Marina. Those points would include two launching pads and four charging points for flying taxis.

“We believe they are attractive areas with business hubs and tourism hubs that can generate considerable demand,” Bahrojian said.

“The pricing for the flying taxis will be in the range of a limousine service in Dubai, maybe a little higher,” Behrozian said. The RTA describes the rates for limo services in the city as “at least 30% more than taxi fares”. The minimum fare for taxis is approximately $3.25 and the fee is $0.50 per kilometer.

Another departure from earlier plans involves the RTA’s plan to pilot flying taxis instead of the previously discussed autonomy. Dubai officials describe the taxi as a pilot with four seats for passengers, matching Joby’s electric flying taxi. However, Behrojyan said that testing will continue with autonomous flying taxis as well.

The Joby prototype can fly more than 240 kilometers (150 miles) before charging – something that would put Abu Dhabi and other areas of the country within range. It takes off and lands vertically, with its rotors tilted forward in flight. Its maximum speed is 320 kilometers per hour (200 mph).

Joby Aviation Inc, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, stood at $4.20 a share before Monday’s trading. Its major shareholders include Intel Corp., while Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has also invested.

The video posted by Sheikh Mohammed’s Twitter account also featured the logo of London-based Skyports Infrastructure, which refers to its support projects as “vertiports”. The company is already testing its “Vertiport” model out of Paris and working with Joby. Skyports did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Opening the skies to flying taxis would add to Dubai’s “Blade Runner” skyline, while also easing the real-world woes of daily traffic that is only worsening as its population swells to more than 3.5 million.

Rush hour on Sheikh Zayed Road, a dozen-lane artery running the length of Dubai, alternates between dense gridlock and sports-car slalom. More than 1.8 million Dubai-registered vehicles ply its roads, not counting congestion from the UAE’s six other sheikhdoms.

There is also a desire to move away from carbon-belching gasoline and diesel vehicles as the UAE hosts the upcoming UN COP28 climate talks later this year. This is even as the emirate hopes to expand its production of crude ahead of the promise of a “carbon-neutral” future by 2050. Meanwhile, Dubai expects a quarter of all cars on its roads to be driverless by 2030.

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