An impression of the first vertiport at Dubai South
In a landmark $40 million deal, advanced air mobility (AAM) infrastructure developer, VPorts, will establish the world’s first AAM integrator world center in Dubai, the commercial and tourism hub of the United Arab Emirates.
The historic partnership has been signed between VPorts, the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), and Mohammed bin Rashid Aerospace Hub (MBRAH), with operations commencing in 2024. Construction will start next year.
The deal—which represents an initial investment of $40 million over three years—will give Dubai and the UAE a world-class global AAM hub which will include dedicated flight-testing airspace, assigned blocked airspace, and new tech designed to foster the global growth of the international AAM market. All this will help to accelerate the certification of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
Dr. Fethi Chebil, CEO and Founder of Canada-based VPorts, commented: “VPorts is thrilled to be leading the development of this first and only AAM integrator world center. Our presence in Dubai is aligned with our strategy and ambition to build and operate 1,500 vertiports around the world by 2045.”
VPorts has signed a 25-year exclusive lease agreement with MBRAH, renewable for a further 25 years, to establish the new AAM center on a 37,000 square meter site within Dubai South, a master development focused on aviation and logistics.
The AAM project is expected to generate $7 billion in direct revenue in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, over the next 25 years and create 1,500 high-skilled, direct jobs. Tahnoon Saif, CEO of MBRAH said: “This first-of-its-kind center will support worldwide eVTOL manufacturers and operators with flight testing facilities in all conditions and help position Dubai as a world leader in advanced air mobility. We will spare no effort in supporting VPorts so it can prosper and connect with different stakeholders.”
An impression of VPorts' vertiport at Dubai South which should be operational in 2024..
Dr Fethi Chebil: "We are really excited about this development (which is) an important structural step for the AAM market.”
Those stakeholders will include private players. As part of the agreement, VPorts will partner with private investors to deliver advanced infrastructure, development, and operations. VPorts says that “multiple revenue streams and opportunities” will be pursued and leveraged “across all phases of development.” These include project conceptualization, design, infrastructure development, and long-term implementation. USA-based NEXA Capital Partners is expected to lead the initial investment round, assembling a consortium already active in the AAM sector.
Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of GCAA, said: “GCAA’s strategic plan is to build a sustainable and innovative cluster for the AAM ecosystem to thrive and grow globally from a hub right here in Dubai. As a leading civil aviation organization, we are reshaping the regulatory landscape to leverage the presence of the project partners in Dubai to foster AAM-related technology and know-how.”
Together with MBRAH and the GCAA, VPorts will deploy its Vertiport Operation Control Center (VOCC) hub as part of the new center. The VOCC will have the capacity to manage air traffic integration and set up communication protocols between eVTOLs, vertiports, and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP). It will also leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to assess data related to resource management, ensuring efficient, timely decision-making processes for all eVTOLs landing, taking off from, or flying to any vertiport in an eventual global network.
The VOCC will also have the capacity to manage non-flight-related operations, including cargo, personnel, and airside management, commercial activities, security screening, cybersecurity, ground handling, and aircraft charging.
VPorts is also working with universities and research groups in the UAE in collaborative R&D projects, and to prepare the next generation of decision-makers in the fledgling AAM market. The company has already established the ‘Smart Digital Green Innovation Network’, consisting of eight universities in Canada, plus the University of Sharjah, and the American University of Sharjah, all of which are in discussion to set up a collaborative framework.
VPorts expects to have a network of vertiports to handle the transportation of light goods covering key locations in the UAE.
VPorts’ UAE network of vertiports will focus on locations that optimize multimodal transportation connectivity, including Dubai South, Jebel Ali, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ras Al-Khaimah.
Chebil said: ‘‘We are excited to build the first vertiport network connecting major UAE industrial areas. Similar to heliports, the vertiports will be designed for take-off and landing by eVTOLs. Our initial growth strategy is based on the regional transportation of goods and the efficient movement of patients, organs for transplants, and medical equipment.”
He added: “Logically, the first places to set up vertiports are existing helipads. Industrial and cargo areas are also excellent options. We look forward to collaborating with each and every Emirate to define the location of dedicated vertiports.’’
In the coming months, VPorts will work with an extended partner network to leverage strategic expertise, including eVTOL manufacturing, flight simulation and training, regulators, air navigation service providers, technology service providers, operators, electric charging manufacturers and urban planners.