A battle for access to a lucrative market in the Middle East appears to be in the offing between two of the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector’s leading lights.

At stake is the right to operate electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) air taxi services in the United Arab Emirates, likely one of the early adopters of AAM globally.

Joby-Aircraft-Dubai-c-Joby Aviation

Source: Joby Aviation

Joby signed an agreement with Dubai’s RTA in February granting it a six-year period of exclusive access for air taxi services

Operations in the UAE could begin in late 2025 and the riches on offer has US aircraft developers Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation already jostling for access.

However, Joby appears to have the upper hand, having in February signed an agreement with Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA), granting it the exclusive right to operate air taxi services in the emirate for a period of six years.

Joby’s infrastructure partner Skyports has a similar agreement covering the operation of vertiports in Dubai.

Under their plans, the initial network will include four vertiports located by Dubai International airport, the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Downtown and Dubai Marina.

But, undeterred by this seemingly insurmountable obstacle, Archer has also announced its own plans for operations in the emirate.

Partnering with Falcon Aviation Services, the pair intend to launch operations in the UAE from vertiports at the Palm in Dubai and the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi.

While Archer’s plans for tourism flights or other services in Abu Dhabi are clearly not restricted by Joby’s exclusivity agreement with the Dubai RTA, it also intends to launch shuttle services between the two emirates, and from the Palm to Dubai International airport, putting it in direct conflict with its rival.

“Driving between the two cities during peak traffic can take more than two hours. Archer and Falcon Aviation plan to offer passenger service in Archer’s Midnight [aircraft] between these two Falcon vertiports,” it states.

Archer Midnight Abu Dhabi

Source: Archer Aviation

Archer insists it will operate Midnight aircraft across the UAE, including services linking Abu Dhabi and Dubai

FlightGlobal understands that Archer is convinced that the RTA agreement does not apply to its planned operation and has been assured no company has full exclusivity in Dubai.

Further, it views the Joby-RTA pact as only covering air taxi services within a small area of metropolitan Dubai.

Joby declines to comment on the specifics of its deal, but adds: “Joby’s agreement with the RTA in Dubai provides Joby with the exclusive right to operate air taxis across the entire emirate of Dubai for six years, and will position Dubai as a world leader in delivering the fast, clean and quiet air travel enabled by our revolutionary technology.”

To date, Archer’s only arrangement with the authorities in the UAE is a pact with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO), signed in October 2023, covering a plan to launch “an all-electric air taxi service across the UAE” starting in 2026.

No details of either the Joby-RTA or Archer-ADIO deals have yet emerged, although by its very nature, a definitive agreement – as in the former case – is likely to contain a strict definition of what constitutes an air taxi operation.

And, given the importance attached to its agreement with Joby, it seems likely that the RTA will strongly enforce the exclusivity of its chosen commercial partner.

Insiders suggest that although Archer could theoretically operate services from Abu Dhabi to Dubai it would be unable to pick up passengers at the Palm for any outbound leg.