Archer Aviation Midnight
Archer Aviation also signed an MoU with Abu Dhabi military maintenance company GAL AMMROC at the Dubai Airshow. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxis can soon become a reality in the UAE. That’s the hope of Archer Aviation. Going by the California-based original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and operator’s timelines, residents and visitors may be able to ‘hail’ one of the company’s eVTOL aircraft, potentially from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Dubai Mall, for example, as soon as 2026.

But two big questions persist – how much would it cost? And is it safe for commercial use?

Dh500 for a 20-min ride?

Archer’s operations are subject to certifications and regulatory approvals from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, the company’s Chief Safety Officer Billy Nolen has said pricing for air taxis will compare to the ‘upper level of premium ground ridesharing services such as Uber Black or Uber Comfort territory’.

“Once we get to mass scale, we see the process coming and falling to the Uber X category,” Nolen told Gulf News on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow last week. Uber charges anything between Dh498 and Dh526 for a one-time trip from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Dubai Mall.

Considering the potential time savings, as the current land journey takes anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to two hours due to Abu Dhabi-Dubai traffic, air taxis could significantly reduce travel time to just 10-20 minutes.

Archer Aviation's eVTOL Midnight
Archer has raised over $1.1 billion of funding to date, including investments from Mubadala Capital, United Airlines, Stellantis, and Boeing. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

The American company has partnered with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) to make Abu Dhabi its first international launch partner for air taxi operations, set to commence in 2026. It hopes to go-to-market in the United States in 2025, with initial operations in Chicago and New York. Archer is also building a manufacturing facility in Georgia, Atlanta, with a Phase 1 capacity to manufacture 650 aircraft. Talks are underway to build a similar facility in Abu Dhabi’s Smart and Autonomous Vehicle Industry (SAVI) Cluster.

Archer also signed a MoU with DWC-based private heliport operator Air Chateau International during the Airshow. Air Chateau said it plans to run an air taxi network across the Middle East after announcing plans to purchase up to 100 Archer’s Midnight eVTOL aircraft, valued at around $500 million.

The company plans to own and operate the Midnight aircraft in the region. The company also said it plans to make an initial non-refundable pre-delivery payment of $1 million by December 31 this year. The definitive agreements for the purchase, totalling $4 million in pre-delivery payments, will be formalised in the coming months.

Archer Founder and CEO Adam Goldstein said, "Air Chateau's recognition that our Midnight aircraft meets what the customer demands in the UAE market and desire to secure the purchase of up to 100 Midnight aircraft is another exciting validation of our efforts to bring to market an aircraft that will revolutionize how people move in and around cities.”

Changing infrastructure

The company displayed its eVTOL aircraft ‘Midnight’ during the Airshow. Nolen explained that the piloted, four-passenger eVTOL aircraft can fly up to 100 miles (160 kilometres) on a single charge. Archer expects operators to use the vehicle primarily for back-to-back flights of between 10 to 20 minutes. As far as use-case scenarios are concerned, eVTOLs could eventually replace helicopters, cut down intra and inter-city travel time, and could also be a huge draw for tourists, said Nolen.

Billy Nolen, Chief Safety Officer, Archer
Billy Nolen, Archer’s Chief Safety Officer and former FAA acting administrator, believes customer and regulatory demand for AAM is strong. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

In terms of land infrastructure for eVTOLs, Nolen said the company is looking into charging infrastructure for the aircraft. He said, “When considering airports, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi boast numerous buildings with multiple helipads. The vision involves strategically placing helipads in key locations like the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, and Mall of the Emirates, often requiring simple concrete structures.”

He said, “We’re also delving into the development of charging infrastructure. Our message to city planners at various levels—local, state, and federal—is to envision and plan for the growth of this ecosystem.” Last year, the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) published the world’s first national regulation related to vertiports.

An app for hailing air taxis

While the company has not announced if a mobile application can be used to book ride-hailing services for the air taxis, Nolen said the potential is limitless, given the airline companies Archer has been partnering with. “If you take our partnership with United Airlines (UAL), for example, users could book the ride on either the UAL app, or they may book it on Archer’s app,” explained Nolen.

In March this year, Archer Aviation signed an agreement with United Airlines to launch the first air taxi route in Chicago between O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Vertiport Chicago.

Copy of 2021-06-11T022219Z_1263580624_RC2OWN99166H_RTRMADP_3_ARCHER-UAM-1623389563465
Designed to hold a 453.5 kg of payload, the Midnight aircraft can handle four passengers plus a pilot. Image Credit: Reuters

The company also signed an agreement with InterGlobe Enterprises - the parent company of India’s largest airline, IndiGo. The service aims to start with 200 aircraft and begin in Delhi, the national capital, Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, and Bengaluru.

“We are examining various approaches as we explore partnerships with airlines like Indigo and UAL. Whether we leverage our app or integrate with airline apps, the goal is to simplify ordering a ride on Midnight,” said Nolen.

In comparison, Archer’s competition Joby Aviation’s business model is similar to a rideshare application.

Safe for commercial use?
Nolen, the FAA’s acting administrator from June 2022 to 2023, was hired as the company’s head of safety this year. Nolen said, “Our goal is to come to market in 2025. We are working on our certification pathways with the FAA, and the talks are in advanced stages,” he explained.

Nolen said the company is building six conforming aircraft that it will use for accredited flight testing with the FAA. “The FAA still needs to finalise the operational framework for how the pilots will fly and train. The framework for that should be finalised by September-October 2024,” he added. Once the company receives its type certification, the approval of the design of the aircraft and all parts (including propellers, engines, control stations, etc.) from the FAA, it would work on the validation process with UAE’s GCAA, said Nolen.