Airbus 'very serious' about developing flying taxis, says CEO

New CEO says the European planemaker is actively investing in ‘urban air mobility’ vehicles

Faury said Airbus is looking to trial decarbonised solutions on smaller aircraft and then attempt to scale these up for its larger models. Courtesy: Airbus

Airbus is investing in developing flying taxis and other forms of “urban air mobility”, as the European planemaker focuses on providing transport solutions to the growing urban population and the need for cleaner “decarbonised” vehicles, its CEO said.

“Yes, it’s an area for us for different reasons. We think there will be a business, it’s coming because there is a convergence of needs and technologies,” Guillaume Faury, who took over as CEO of Airbus in April, said when asked if the company was focused on developing smaller vehicles, such as flying taxis.

In pictures: Airbus to showcase its wide variety of aircraft at Dubai Airshow 2019Airbus will showcase its wide range of innovative technologies, products and services from market leading commercial and military aircraft to helicopters and space systems.+9

“The needs are coming from the fact that we have more than 50 percent of the world’s population living in urban areas, it’s going to 60 percent in 2030 and 70 percent in 2050. The world is a city, more and more, at least for human beings,” he said.

Flying cars pose a number of challenges, such as security, fuel and safety, but it is something the Airbus chief confirmed he is actively pumping money into this sector in order to make it a reality.

“Yes, it needs to be decarbonised for pollution reasons more than CO2, so it needs to be electrically powered, it’s not long distance so it can fly with batteries. We are pursuing this avenue. We think that safety is absolutely critical, it’s even more than any other aviation device because it’s flying over cities. That’s maybe the next step.”

Airbus is synonymous with developing the massive A380 double decker jumbo jet, which it announced it would be retiring within the next two years due to falling demand. But Faury said Airbus is looking to trial decarbonised solutions on smaller aircraft and then attempt to scale these up for its larger models.

“Another reason why we’re very serious about urban air mobility and those vehicles is because it’s a playground for us for decarbonised technologies. We can test on a small scale… And then we can scale up to bigger planes when we think we have something. So it’s a way to prepare the decarbonised technologies of large planes on a smaller scale and much faster and with less money,” he explained.

Read the full interview with Guillaume Faury here.

Dubai is certainly at the forefront of the flying taxi and urban air mobility drive. Two years ago, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, attended the maiden concept flight of an autonomous air taxi.

A Chinese start-up has developed a flying car that it plans to roll out in Dubai. EHang Inc’s E-184 drone can carry one passenger in its small cockpit, but the firm said it’s working on a model that can carry two.

Last year, US-based flying taxi firm Vimana Global conducted a prototype trial of its autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) in Dubai prior to its launch in the emirate, its CEO said.

Despite these advances, Uber said earlier this summer that demand-related uncertainty and challenging weather conditions were the main reasons behind its decision not to include any Middle Eastern cities on its initial list of Uber Air candidates.

Dallas-Fort Worth/Frisco and Los Angeles will offer US testbeds for the aerial ridesharing service, while Melbourne saw off competition from Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Sydney and Tokyo to become the first overseas city to welcome Uber Air.

Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, said: “In these initial stages, we want to launch in a place that we know will have the demand. We’re really bullish and excited about the potential of both the Middle East and African markets, but our ground business isn’t quite as big there as it is in some other places.

“We also considered weather, to be completely honest. We wanted to select launch cities in places where there is a good chance that the weather will be conducive to operations. In certain parts of the Middle East, the summer weather presents some pretty serious challenges.”

Uber plans to conduct flight demonstrations of its aircraft in 2020. The firm aims to make Uber Air commercially available to passengers in 2023.

However, flying taxis could still be coming soon to Dubai, as the city’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) announced earlier this year the signing of an agreement with the German VOLOCOPTER Company, a specialist in the manufacture of autonomous air vehicles. The trial operation of this taxi began in 2017.

Officials from Germany’s Greentech festival expect Volocopter to be commercialised in places like Dubai, Singapore and Germany by the end of next year, Logistics Middle East reported in June.

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