By Ahmad Lala
Imagine placing a call and having a plane come to a station near your house like a taxi. That is what Genesis says it is working on
Imagine leaving your Dubai Marina apartment for a meeting on the other side of town during peak traffic and arriving there within 10 minutes. Well German-born Thomas Hartzdorf believes this can soon be a reality as he nears completion on an aircraft prototype capable of offering “the first flying taxi service in the UAE”.
Hartzdorf is the founder of Genesis Aviation, the company building the prototype – which happens to be the first to be developed in the country – in Dubai World Central. He says that the idea to develop a six-seater taxi-plane came to him when Emirates started using the A380. “If Emirates Airways wanted to transport its VIP guests from the Airport to the Palm, it would put them into a limousine and one and a half hours later, traffic dependent, they would reach their destination. So I told the guys, let’s build a plane so that we can get the VIP guests there in 10 minutes,” he says.
And although the idea seemed simple: create a 6-seater Sentinel aeroplane that only needs a 60m strip to take-off or land, can put-down on small areas of such as the Creek, or be operated from the top of buildings; the mere fact that no one had tried to develop an aeroplane in the country before, provided a huge challenge. Genesis needed to wait seven months to get a license to start building aircraft, and a further seven months for the materials to arrive.
“It was quite a bit of running around initially; people had not seen this idea before,” says Hartzdorf.
“Then there was the hurdle to get all the material into the country. This was a new industry, no one else was building an aircraft here, so even a simple thing like rivets, which I could have got in three days in Europe, took three months to come.
“The supplier told us ‘everyone has new planes here, why would I need to stock so much rivets’,” adds Hartzdorf with a smile.
As the project went along, Hartzdorf evolved the plane for other purposes. “We got applications for an ambulance aeroplane, for police use, border control, and as an aircraft that can be used as a fire fighting system for high rise buildings.”
Now with the aircraft almost complete and pending FIA tests and approval processes, which could take anything from three to six months, Hartzdorf needs to sell his idea to the authorities and an operator.
“To make the taxi system a reality we must have government support. Without government support, it is not possible,” he says. “That means we must have the approval from all the authorities, and we must have a carrier to do it. We only build the aeroplane, we don’t run the system.”
But with this project Hartzdorf believes that he has a winner.
“The airplane has an hourly cost of $150, including pilot cost, and can fly a guest from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in a third of the time it takes to drive down. Also compare that to the hourly rate of $1200 to hire a helicopter, added to the chopper’s $4 million price tag,” he says.
The biggest draw card for this idea is that you don’t need to go to the airport. You call, and the plane will come to a station near you, like a taxi. The idea is to create an air taxi station every 3km around Dubai. The system is also ideal for any city with a lot of water around like Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Hong Kong, or New York etc.”
But why did the German with 30 years of experience in building and flying aircraft decide to start this particular aircraft development business in the UAE? Love for the country and the responsibility to share his knowledge with a region that has no history of modern aircraft development, says Hartzdorf.
“I will bring these ideas and passion to the UAE; not for me, but I am bringing this knowledge into the region. If I died tomorrow, all this knowledge will die with me. But as I am training engineers from here that studied aircraft engineering, that will help the UAE to develop its own aircraft industry in the future.
“You must have knowledge to build planes. Europe and America have their own companies that build aircraft with nearly 100 years of experience behind them. But these companies are not coming to the UAE. I alone took the challenge of coming to start a new company in a new industry here.”
Hartzdorf adds that the Dubai RTA, which has been an innovator in new technology could find interest in this system.
“I think that Dubai should definitely be the first city with this Air Taxi System in time for the Expo 2020, because no other city in the world has this kind of Transport System. It could be operated by the RTA, which will then be able to feature road, rail and air transport in its portfolio,” he says.