• | 9:00 am

Air taxis get closer to takeoff in Dubai. But are we ready?

Adopting air taxis requires overcoming challenges from infrastructure readiness, operational complexity, and regulatory maturity to public acceptance

Air taxis get closer to takeoff in Dubai. But are we ready?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

In films, the future of urban air mobility is often represented in flying vehicles taking off and landing vertically from glittering vertiports in fantastical high-tech cities. Well, this shiny vision will soon become an everyday reality. Dubai, which has been heavily investing in smart mobility, will have air taxis in about two years.

This new form of mobility will be very different from airplanes to which we’re accustomed. These vehicles will operate more like helicopters and look like supersized drones.

Electric flying taxis between Dubai and Abu Dhabi could make journeys between the two cities as short as just 30 minutes, which currently take more than two hours during peak traffic hours. Developers Archer and Falcon Aviation say the first step in the plan could come as early as 2025.

Aerial vehicles will also operate on short, intracity routes with about ten minutes of flight time, dropping passengers from the Dubai International Airport to vertiports in Palm Jumeirah, Downtown Dubai, and Dubai Marina.

“With overly strained road networks and ever-growing congestion, and amid a constant search for new efficient mobility modes, flying taxis offer an alternative. Concrete deployment plans are already underway in Dubai, en route to larger-scale adoption in the region,” says Gustave Cordahi, Principal, Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC Network. “Any journeys of 20 kilometers to 150 kilometers will be well suited for air taxi operations.”


“During peak times, it can take up to two hours to travel from Dubai to neighboring Sharjah by car, for example, so we anticipate a strong appetite from commuters for a faster, more efficient alternative that is also environmentally friendly,” says Skyports Infrastructure CEO Duncan Walker.

Under the deal, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) will regulate the air mobility services; Joby Aviation will manufacture and operate electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxis in the emirate, and Skyports will operate the vertiports to provide takeoff and landing infrastructure throughout the strategic locations.

“For the next two years, we will be focusing on developing our vertiports in Dubai, but we are also already thinking about enabling a UAE-wide network or expanding to other markets in the GCC region,” says Walker.

According to experts, in the Middle East, flying taxis can take urban air mobility to the next level, integrating personal and shared mobility into the urban airspace. “It’s taking it beyond use cases like emergency and humanitarian services and goods delivery,” adds Cordahi.

But how will we really interact with these all-new vehicles and their supporting infrastructure? More importantly, is Dubai’s infrastructure ready for flying taxis? Not yet.

Over the next two years, Skyports will develop a network of vertiports that will be used to launch air taxi services in Dubai. Its vertiports will integrate with the RTA’s existing transport network to enable seamless 

travel and promote inter-modality and shared transport solutions. 

The project has government support, a critical enabler for speedy infrastructure development. The General Civil Aviation Authority in the UAE has also established the world’s first regulatory framework for vertical ports.

“Our vertiports will be designed to handle high-throughput operations, provide fast charging, and allow boarding/deboarding of up to five aircraft simultaneously,” says Walker.

Meanwhile, Falcon Aviation will develop state-of-the-art vertiport infrastructure in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which will allow the aerial taxis to take off and land. Archer aims to transform urban travel by replacing journeys that normally take between an hour and 90 minutes by car with 10 to 30-minute air taxi flights.


However, adopting air taxis at a wider scale requires overcoming challenges from infrastructure readiness, operational complexity, and regulatory maturity to economic viability and public acceptance.

“The two biggest challenges at the moment are certification of air taxis and development of infrastructure – once these have been solved, air taxis will become a common way of travel in and between cities,” says Walker.

Urban transportation involves a lot of multimodalities, with city dwellers using traditional hub-and-spoke systems (e.g., buses, metros, streetcars, and water taxis) along with newer bike share and other micro-mobility services. 

Integrating air taxi networks with existing and planned mobility systems will be important, enabling multimodal synergies. A truly intermodal experience will stitch together the entire transportation journey.

“This starts from dedicating existing or establishing new takeoff and landing zones in urban areas, with these vertiports strategically located to ensure a safe, equitable, and smooth access and integration with urban transportation networks,” says Cordahi.


That push for more effective air traffic is made all the more urgent given that the city’s dependence on the service will only increase. Air taxis and more advanced drone fleets will portend a future sky clogged with individual craft (many autonomous or unmanned) going to different destinations. 

When multiple flying objects have multiple controls, the skies will be even more crowded, with no easy way to direct traffic. This will impact both international and regional airports, too.

“Operationally, with the anticipated increase in air traffic volumes and the added burden for air traffic controllers, taking air traffic management to the next level will be crucial,” says Cordahi.

“This will help coordinate the movement of flying taxis with other air traffic, including drones, helicopters, and traditional airplanes, through refreshed protocols and advanced interoperable technologies that help accommodate this urban airspace ‘newcomers.’” 

However, Walker says it will be pretty straightforward for early air taxi operations as existing airspace rules (VFR and IFR) and technology currently deployed to manage general aviation and helicopters can be used. 

“Low-level airspace where air taxis will operate is typically not very crowded unless you are next to a major airport. As operations of air taxis scale, this will, of course, require an increase in automation to manage the increased burden on air traffic controllers,” adds Walker.

The default solution is to try to employ AI.

“AI can revolutionize air traffic control and data management as it can empower safer, more efficient, and better-coordinated operations in the airspace through real-time analytics enabling automated data-informed decision making,” says Cordahi. 

Other things that matter when it comes to air taxis are socio-economic viability, balancing affordability for commuters and profitability for operators, creating market demand, overcoming unfamiliarity and early adoption barriers, and achieving accessibility and equity with attention to over-served and under-served communities.

“At launch, we anticipate passenger fares to be higher due to limited supply and scale; however, over time, the intention is to bring it down to levels of UberBlack or UberExec, meaning it’s higher than a standard taxi fare but still much lower than the cost of a helicopter,” says Walker. 

“As with any technology, the price point comes down with economies of scale.”

Amid all these, one that rings truer than ever is alleviating safety concerns and minimizing noise pollution. Walker says, “Air taxis carrying passengers for commercial purposes will need to achieve an equivalent level of safety as traditional commercial aviation.”


Noise is another major reason. Will the air taxis be higher-pitched or blend into the hum of car traffic rather than rumble on? 

Joby Aviation has spent 12 years optimizing its propellers to bring noise to the absolute minimum. 

“Compared to helicopters, air taxi propellers have much lower tip speeds, meaning their noise footprint is significantly lower, and the type of noise they produce is also less noticeable than helicopters,” says Walker.

“When we locate and design vertiports, we also take this into account and ensure that any flight paths to and from the vertiport avoid any sensitive areas,” he adds.

Ultimately, the advantages outweigh the challenges. 

For passengers, these flights will also be more visceral than commercial jetliners; the sight lines will be more visually dramatic, and the vehicle’s movement will be more physically perceptible.

Unlike airport travel, where passengers are expected to arrive a couple of hours before their flight, air taxi passengers are expected to spend minimal time at a vertiport, at most ten minutes before departure. Passengers won’t have to deal with tickets; it’ll all be done digitally. 

Another significant difference is air taxis’ fully electric propulsion – making them sustainable and cheaper to operate, safer and quieter than a helicopter or airliner. 

“Air taxis bring the promise of helping ease urban land congestion. The right planning and implementation of technology, particularly AI, can help achieve an optimal multimodal balance that contributes to the proliferation of more efficient, integrated, and resilient urban mobility systems,” says Cordahi. 

  Be in the Know. Subscribe to our Newsletters.


Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More