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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Airbus enters flying taxis and on-demand helicopters race 

The company is setting up a new division in a bid to compete with tech providers and startups encroaching in the market

A model of a City Airbus flying taxi, developed by Airbus, sits on the company's stand during the Viva Technology conference in Paris. Marlene Awaad / Bloomberg
A model of a City Airbus flying taxi, developed by Airbus, sits on the company's stand during the Viva Technology conference in Paris. Marlene Awaad / Bloomberg

Airbus is creating a division to oversee futuristic transport options such as flying taxis and on-demand helicopters in a sign the European plane maker is going on the offensive against tech providers and startups encroaching in the market.

The manufacturer named company veteran Eduardo Dominguez Puerta, 40, on Monday to head its newly formed Urban Air Mobility unit. Mr Puerta helped start the firm’s innovation center in Silicon Valley, where he served as chief operating officer.

Projects that will be overseen by the division include an autonomous flying cab prototype called CityAirbus, an electric flying taxi named Vahana and Voom, billed by Airbus as a premier on-demand helicopter booking platform. Ride-hailing app creator Uber Technologies Inc. and startup Kitty Hawk, backed by Google’s co-founder Larry Page, are also working to develop airborne taxis.

Last week at a technology conference in Paris, Airbus also unveiled an electric drone shuttle named Pop.up that it’s developing with German car maker Audi.

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“We now need to gear up, build partnerships with various stakeholders, including air safety agencies, and define and conduct pilot projects,” Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said Monday in a statement. The new unit will be “open for cooperation with other vehicle manufacturers.”

Earlier this month, Airbus appointed Grazia Vittadini as chief technology officer, succeeding Paul Eremenko, who left at the end of 2017 after one-and-a-half-years at the company. Mr Eremenko, a former Google executive, was one of the developers of the Vahana and Voom projects.