By Parag Deulgaonkar
Transport authority says it is working on finalising routes, landing and take off points
Dubai will begin trials of an autonomous air taxi (AAT), capable of carrying two passengers, in the fourth quarter 2017, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) said on Monday.
The authority has signed an agreement with Volocopter, a Germany-based specialist manufacturer of autonomous air vehicles.
In February, the RTA and China’s Ehang Company announced the first test run of an autonomous aerial vehicle capable of carrying a human. Whilst the service was planned to be operational by July, the authority has said the service will be launched only after getting all safety approvals.
The move to include air taxis is part of RTA's effort to provide autonomous transportation by conducting the required technological tests of those vehicles under the climatic conditions of Dubai.
The emirate’s smart autonomous mobility strategy seeks to transform a 25 percent of the total mobility journeys into autonomous transport by 2030.
The AAT, which is powered by electricity, comprises 18 rotors to ensure safe cruising and landing of the taxi in case of any rotor failure, Mattar Al Tayer, director-general and chairman of the board of executive directors of RTA, said.
The air taxi is characterised by its autopilot or autonomous flying, thus enabling the movement of people from one place to another without human intervention or a need for flight licence holder.
During the trial period, all aspects relating to the operation as well as security and safety of the autonomous aerial taxi will be verified and checked, Al Tayer said.
“The official operation hinges on the readiness of companies and the availability of legislations necessary for operating autonomous aerial vehicles.”
RTA is currently working with the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority to develop the legislative and operational guidelines, define specifications and standards applicable to operators in the emirate.
In coordination with its strategic partners, RTA will specify the air routes of journeys, take-off and landing points of these taxis and the logistics needed to ensure safe and smooth mobility of passengers.
A General Civil Aviation Authority official, however, told Arabian Business that any aviation activity above ground in UAE airspace is under their mandate to regulate, certify and approve.
According to the RTA, the autonomous air taxi includes top security and safety standards. It is also fitted with a full aircraft emergency parachute, nine independent battery systems, battery quick-change and plug-in system, and fast battery charging time of 40 minutes.
The vehicle is environment-friendly and is powered by clean electricity and has very low noise. Its maximum flight time is nearly 30 minutes at a cruise speed of 50 kilometre per hour (km/h), and a maximum airspeed of 100 km/h.
The AAT measures about two metres in height, and the diameter of the rotor rim, including propellers, is about seven metres.