Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have approved the development of an advanced air mobility (AAM) business park in Dubai. The facility will be built by ground infrastructure group VPorts at the Mohammed bin Rashid Aerospace Hub (MBRAH), which is part of the vast Al Maktoum International Airport and Dubai South complex.
Under an agreement announced on December 7 during the MEBAA business aviation trade show in Dubai, Canada-based VPorts has signed a 25-year lease on a 37,000-sq-m (nine-acre) site. Funded by an initial $40 million investment over three years, the construction will start in 2023, with the first part of the facility expected to open in 2024.
VPorts, which refers to the development as “an AAM integrator center,” says it aims to attract companies working to develop eVTOL aircraft. Tenants will have access to airspace approved for flight testing and the site is also expected to attract companies working on multiple aspects of the AAM ecosystem, including air traffic management and support services. The agreement with MBRAH includes an option to extend the lease for a further 25 years.
Nexa Capital Partners will now lead an investment round to help VPorts raise more financial backing for the Dubai development. VPorts, which is already working on another AAM project in Quebec and New York state, claims that the facility in the UAE will generate $7 billion in direct revenues for Dubai and Abu Dhabi over the next 25 years and support the creation of 1,500 jobs.
The VPorts business plan calls for the development of vertiports positioned for multimodal transportation connections across the UAE in Dubai South, Jebel Ali, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ras Al-Khaimah that will be extended to major industrial sites in the country by 2030. According to founder and CEO Fethi Chebil, the company aims to build and operate 1,500 vertiports worldwide by 2045. He indicated that early eVTOL operations using the VPorts network will likely involve delivering freight and supporting medical missions, such as carrying patients, supplies, and organs for transplant.
“Logically, the first places to set up vertiports are existing helipads,” Chebil commented. “Industrial and cargo areas are also excellent options to consider. We look forward to collaborating with each and every emirate to define the location of dedicated vertiports, safety and security regulations, flight corridors, urban integration, and business community engagement for this important undertaking.
The Dubai South facility will include what VPorts calls a Vertiport Operation Control Center that will manage air traffic integration and communications between eVTOL aircraft operators, vertiports, and air navigation service providers. The company says the center will also be used to manage tasks such as cargo loading, ground handling, security screening, and the recharging of aircraft batteries.
VPorts plans to include UAE-based universities and research organizations in the AAM integrator center. To develop links with academics involved in technologies related to AAM, the company is building a “Smart Digital Green Innovation Network” that so far comprises eight universities in Canada, the University of Sharjah, and the American University of Sharjah.
The UAE consists of seven emirates, including the capital Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain. To date, no eVTOL aircraft developer or prospective operator has announced plans to start operations in the country. However, in neighboring Saudi Arabia, the national airline, Saudia, has said it intends to buy up to 100 of Lilium’s six-passenger eVTOL vehicles.
According to VPorts, the capabilities that it expects to be present in the AAM integrator center will support efforts to achieve type certification of eVTOL aircraft in the UAE. The partnership announced this week has the backing of the country’s General Civil Aviation Authority. According to MBRAH chief executive Tahnoon Saif, its commitment to VPorts is based on an objective to make Dubai one of the world’s leading centers for the emerging AAM business.
During the MEBAA show, Dubai-based heliport operator Air Chateau announced separate plans to develop vertiports with Swedish infrastructure company Kookiejar. The partners said they will confirm further details about those facilities in 2023.