Dubai’s wish to put a fully certified and regulated air taxi into operation within the next five years came a step closer recently, when UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum was a passenger on the first official proof-of-concept flight of one of the world’s first autonomous air taxis (AAT) in September.
However, progress in Dubai has stalled for now as further agreement is reached on how to progress toward certification. The AAT is expected to be certified by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and the UAE’s General Civil Aviation (GCAA) within five years.
“The two-seater AAT, capable of transporting people without human intervention or a pilot, has been supplied by Volocopter, a Germany-based specialist manufacturer of autonomous air vehicles,” the RTA stated.
Over the next five years, the RTA will collaborate with the GCAA and the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that the operational requirements for implementing AAT services are put in place, it said.
“The AAT has a variety of unique features that include top security and safety standards and multiple redundancies in all critical components such as propellers, motors, power source, electronics and flight controls,” said Mattar Al Tayer, director general and chairman of the board of executive directors of the RTA. “It is also fitted with optional emergency parachutes, nine independent battery systems and a battery quick-charge and plug-in system, which takes two hours to reach full charge in the prototype—a time that will be significantly reduced in the production version.”
The AAT is understood to have a maximum air speed of 100 km/h and a maximum flight time of approximately 30 minutes. It will operate under the "highest security and safety standards," Volocopter said.
Six near equilateral "triangles" with 18 mini-propellers power the AAT, which has a height of 2.15 m and diameter of 7.35 m. The aircraft will also be equipped with a full emergency parachute. The Volocopter 2X flies completely autonomously or can be controlled via joystick.
Bruchsal, Germany-based Volocopter in July agreed a finance deal of more than €25 million ($29 million) with Daimler and German technology investor Lukasz Gadowski, among others, to fund further development.
However, the RTA faces a huge task in certifying the AAT as there are no FAA or EASA guidelines to rely on.
“Our contract with the RTA ended with the demonstration flight for the Crown Prince. We have been very impressed by the RTA staff, their vision, staff, experience and plans to implement an AAT,” Mike Rioux—COO at autonomous air-vehicle safety specialist, Bethesda, Maryland-based JDA Aviation Technology Solutions, which assisted the RTA in testing prototypes for the scheme—told AIN.
“We have no doubt that they will make it happen—not in one year, but in the foreseeable future, assuming that [areas such as] the design and type certification regulations are developed for an autonomous aircraft, and that operational or flight standards/regulations are [also] developed.”
Rioux went on to specify a number of other considerations, including safety, air corridor allocation and operator standards. “All of these items are doable and achievable by RTA.”
Dubai aims to carry out 25 percent of its passenger transportation with the help of autonomous means of transport by 2030, Volocopter said.