There are two broad schools of thought within the urban air mobility (UAM) industry regarding the start of operations: one seeks service entry as soon as practicable to prove the concept, while the other is more measured, seeing that society needs to be coaxed along for the ride, as it were, if the sector is to be successful.

Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, but one carries far more risk for the wider industry than the other.

But those sharp-elbowed start-ups with hungry investors behind them need a successful introduction sooner rather than later to start generating revenues, that much is clear; no company can continue to burn development cash indefinitely.

For them, the Middle East appears a promising source of early income while they wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

A welcoming environment from Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular, has seen the like of Archer Aviation and Joby Aviation announce plans for initial operations in the United Arab Emirates, before they launch services elsewhere.

Archer Midnight

Source: Archer Aviation

Two minutes to Midnight?

As has been seen before in the UAE, if the government wants something implemented, it usually happens; construction takes place at breakneck speed and infrastructure pops up overnight. Thus high-level blessing for UAM operations should guarantee an ideal launch pad.

With operations in the UAE possibly starting next year – once the potential banana skin of US certification has been avoided, of course – the rest of the UAM industry will be watching on with interest.

But if this approach is to be beneficial to all, then the introduction of electric air taxi services must be without teething troubles of any kind: it should be accessible to all, not just the ultra-rich; there can be no major service disruptions; and above all there can be no accidents, period.

Sure, UAM developers have constantly reassured the wider world that as they are designing aircraft with levels of safety more akin to airliners than helicopters – 10 to the minus nine, is the refrain repeated ad nauseum – that the risk of any accident is incredibly low.

However, that does not mean that one can never crash. Several accidents in flight testing have shown the laws of physics are immutable.

Of course, flying prototypes are a vital part of the development process and the UAM industry is not unique in losing pre-production aircraft, but the various mishaps experienced so far should serve as a warning that no flying vehicle – no matter what you call them, or the number of flashy ads you produce – can ever be crash-free.

So when – not if – an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft does come down and cause fatalities, the merest hint of manufacturing complacency or regulatory muddle as an underlying cause will set the industry back years.

While there are advantages to being the first mover, the downsides may not be borne by one company alone.