UAE-based helicopter and business jet operator Falcon Aviation plans to launch eVTOL air taxi services from luxury resort Atlantis the Palm in Dubai starting in 2026. Under a partnership with Eve Urban Air Mobility announced on June 7, the company signed a letter of intent to buy 35 of the manufacturer’s planned four-passenger eVTOL aircraft.
Falcon believes that its track record as a launch operator for several new helicopter types makes it well qualified to be an early adopter of eVTOL vehicles. According to chief operating officer Raman Oberoi, Eve—which is majority-owned by Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer following a recent initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange—approached Falcon with the proposal to launch services in the Gulf region.
“We were the launch customer for Leonardo on the AW189 and AW169 [helicopters],” Oberoi explained. “We are also talking to Leonardo on a new project, the AW09. We are also going to be the launch customer for that product. When Leonardo wants to launch a new product, they come to us. They depend a lot on our inputs because we know the industry very well.”
Falcon is planning to operate the eVTOL aircraft initially from its existing heliport at Atlantis the Palm, from where it offers tourists a bird’s-eye view of Dubai. In 2021, the heliport was used by 45,000 passengers taking sightseeing rides from the island site, a figure that is expected to rise to 65,000 this year with Covid restrictions lifted.
The delivery timeline for the eVTOL aircraft, as well as its price and cost-effectiveness, were the uppermost considerations for Falcon. It shares Eve’s belief that eVTOL operating costs will be less than a quarter of those for the existing rotorcraft. This advantage could shape Falcon’s plans to acquire new aircraft, with the company now considering more interim orders for the Airbus EC130B4 model that is already in its fleet.
Eve, which says it is preparing to fly a full-scale prototype of its eVTOL model later this year, is targeting type certification in 2025.
However, he acknowledged that Falcon still has many questions about the model, with many of these relating to the harshness of Middle East operating conditions. “How will you take off in 45 degrees C, with four passengers with air conditioning? Is it going to be safe? Is going to be noise-free? Is it going to be cost-effective?” Oberoi asked rhetorically.
An Eve official attending the June 7 ceremony in Dubai declined to comment on these points, pending the manufacturer’s final project proof of concept for the aircraft.
Falcon’s fleet today embraces around 30 aircraft, including helicopters and fixed-wing models. Some 75 percent of its revenue comes from supporting offshore oil and gas projects for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). It hopes to grow the tourist tour segment from 10 to 15 percent of total revenues in the coming years.
Oberoi said Falcon was pleased to partner with Eve to be the first operator of eVTOL aircraft in Dubai and the Middle East and North Africa, saying that launch of the concept aligned with the so-called Smart Dubai vision and would contribute to positioning Dubai as a global leader in sustainable urban air mobility (UAM).
“Falcon is actively engaged in UAM emergence and committed to delivering effective and sustainable new urban transportation and providing the community with better and faster solutions,” he said. “We are particularly proud to take a new step in the UAE, in a project that will be a revolutionary for sustainable urban mobility.”
The Eve aircraft also has the potential to appeal to travelers moving to and from the VIP terminal at Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport. Helicopter shuttles from Falcon’s heliport at that site have yet to take off, due to the failure to effectively compete with limousine service, Oberoi said.
“We are thrilled about partnering with Falcon and having the immense opportunity to enable the future urban mobility in the UAE and launch eVTOL flights in Dubai,” said Andre Stein, co-CEO of Eve. “This is a massive challenge for both companies, which will help to position Dubai as a leader in the UAM market. Eve’s global experience, which spans different regions across the globe, will surely benefit the achievement of this project.”
Oberoi even hinted that the days of the helicopter as we know it today could be numbered. “[EC1304Bs] are the last helicopters of this kind that we will be buying to do this kind of thing," he commented. "Of course, the larger helicopters will still exist [in 10 years], but sooner or later, even they will go away,” he predicted. “I've been telling the helicopter companies that if they don't work on this, they'll be left behind.”