Dubai’s flying taxi plan gets off the ground

A prototype electric helicopter made a test flight in Dubai last week. (Reuters)
Updated 30 September 2017

Dubai’s flying taxi plan gets off the ground

DUBAI: With a whirling buzz from 18 rotors, the pilotless helicopter gently lifted off the ground and soared up into the afternoon sky, the spire of the world’s tallest building visible behind it.
The recent unmanned flight by the German-made electric Volocopter represents the latest step in Dubai’s pursuit of flying taxis, which would not seem out of place among the Gulf city’s already futuristic skyline — imagine “Blade Runner,” with less rain.
Dubai already has invested in another model of a flying, autonomous taxi, and is working to design regulations for their use. Putting more passengers in the air could free its already clogged highways and burnish the city’s cutting-edge image of itself.
“It’s public transportation for everybody, so you can use, you can order it, you can pay for the trip and the trip is not much more expensive than with a car,” said Alexander Zosel, Volocopter’s co-founder. “If you build roads, you build bridges, it’s a huge amount and it’s always much more cheaper to have a system where you don’t need that infrastructure.”
Driving in Dubai already makes one yearn for the open skies. Rush hour on Sheikh Zayed Road, a dozen-lane artery running down the length of the city, alternates between dense gridlock and sports-car slalom. Over 1.5 million Dubai-registered vehicles ply its roads, not counting those crowding in from the United Arab Emirates’ six other sheikhdoms.
The Volocopter’s designers envision the electric, battery-powered two-seat helicopters taking off and landing from pads set up across the city. The prototype used in Dubai has a maximum flying time of 30 minutes at 50 kph (31 mph), with a maximum airspeed of 100 kph (62 mph). Batteries charged in climate-controlled areas near the pads would be swapped in as needed.
“I believe (the) urban air taxi will contribute an interesting addition to the existing transportation modes,” Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter said. “There are certain routes that are just extremely beneficial if you can go to the third dimension.”
In practice, however, there’s a long way to go. Convincing white-knuckled flyers to get into a buzzing, pilotless helicopter is just the beginning. Unpiloted passenger flights represent a new frontier for regulators. Dubai’s Road and Transportation Authority, which has invested an undisclosed sum in Volocopter, says it will work the next five years to come up with laws and develop safety procedures.
That’s a longer time frame than initially offered by Dubai. Mattar Al-Tayer, the head of the RTA, told a conference in February that the Chinese-made EHang 184, a Volocopter competitor, would be regularly flying through the city’s skies by July, though that deadline came and went. The RTA did not respond to a request for comment.
Still, Dubai remains at the front of the pack when it comes to embracing new technology.
Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, says he wants 25 percent of all passenger trips in the city to be done by driverless vehicles by 2030. The city has a deal in place with Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One to study the potential for building a hyperloop line between it and Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital. That technology has levitating pods powered by electricity and magnetism hurtle through low-friction pipes at a top speed of 1,220 kph (760 mph).
For now, the Volocopter’s brief flights in Dubai drew VIP crowds and film crews making advertisements. But its executives say after rules are in place, they will be ready for mass production. Already, Volocopter has drawn the interest of automobile manufacturer Daimler AG, which was part of a consortium that put up $30 million in capital for Volocopter. Even Airbus, a major airplane manufacturer, is looking at building its own flying taxis.
“We’ve proven that it works,” Zosel said. “At the end of this five years, Dubai will be ready.”


Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

Updated 16 September 2019

Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

  • The Houthi attacks hit two Aramco sites and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply
  • President Donald Trump said Sunday the US was ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to the attacks

HONG KONG: Oil prices saw a record surge Monday after attacks on two Saudi facilities slashed output in the world’s top producer by half, fueling fresh geopolitical fears as Donald Trump blamed Iran and raised the possibility of a military strike on the country.
Brent futures surged $12 in the first few minutes of business — the most in dollar terms since they were launched in 1988 and representing a jump of nearly 20 percent — while WTI jumped more than $8, or 15 percent.
Both contracts pared the gains but were both still more than 10 percent up.
The attack by Tehran-backed Houthi militia in neighboring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, hit two sites owned by state-run giant Aramco and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply.
Trump said Sunday the US was “locked and loaded” to respond to the attack, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
Tehran denies the accusations but the news revived fears of a conflict in the tinderbox Middle East after a series of attacks on oil tankers earlier this year that were also blamed on Iran.
“Tensions in the Middle East are rising quickly, meaning this story will continue to reverberate this week even after the knee-jerk panic in oil markets this morning,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.
Trump authorized the release of US supplies from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while Aramco said more than half of the five million barrels of production lost will be restored by tomorrow.
But the strikes raise concerns about the security of supplies from the world’s biggest producer.
Oil prices had dropped last week after news that Trump had fired his anti-Iran hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, which was seen as paving the way for an easing of tensions in the region.
“One thing we can say with confidence is that if part of the reason for last week’s fall in oil and improvement in geopolitical risk sentiment was the news of John Bolton’s sacking ... and thoughts this was a precursor to some form of rapprochement between Trump and Iran, then it is no longer valid,” said Ray Attrill at National Australia Bank.