Getting around cities is a hassle but it could be much easier in the future with the self-flying air taxi… and it may not be so far away. The city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, has started flight tests of what it calls the the Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT).

The aircraft is the Garman designed and made Volocopter 2X. It’s all-electric with 18 propellers mounted on a ring above a two-seat helicopter-like cabin. It’s flown remotely so the two occupants simply have to admire the view – no flying skills required.

But although the Volocopter has flown with a pilot on board, in tests in Germany, the air taxi tests in Dubai are unmanned to begin with. No date has been set for manned flights nor when the air taxi service will be available to the public.

Volocopter Dubai air taxi
Artist’s impression of the Volocopter air taxi operating over Dubai’s harbour. Image: Volocopter
Volocopter Dubai air taxi
This the view for the passengers – no controls! Image: Volocopter
Volocopter Dubai air taxi
Cabin of the Volocopter air taxi – a cross between helicopter and small car. Image: Volocopter

It’s all part of Dubai’s determination to improve its transport infrastructure, and follows tests of other, ground-based, autonomous transport.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, was at the maiden flight of the Autonomous Air Taxi. He said, “After the remarkable success of the first driverless metro in the region, we are glad to witness today the test flight of the Autonomous Air Taxi.

“This is another testament to our commitment to driving positive change. We are constantly exploring opportunities to serve the community and advance the prosperity and happiness of society.”

The AAT prototype being tested has an endurance of 30 minutes, flying at 50km/h. Max airspeed is 100km/h. Various safety systems include back-up batteries, more propellers than needed to fly, and even parachutes.