Emirates airline are developing a fleet of autonomous vehicles, the carrier's chief operations officer said on Saturday.
Adel Al Redha, Emirates’ executive vice president and chief operations officer, told Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid — who was accompanied by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai; Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed, Deputy Ruler of Dubai; and Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future — of the plans during the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai's visit to the Emirates lab at Dubai Future Accelerators in Emirates Tower.
Mr Al Redha briefed Sheikh Mohammed on Emirates’ participation in the third cohort of Dubai Future Accelerators, which includes three challenges designed to enhance the group’s services by using modern technologies.
The first challenge is the development of the autonomous vehicles that meet the specialised mobility needs of airport airside operations.
Mr Al Redha said the fleet should use 100 per cent solar or electrical energy instead of fuel and deliver 50 per cent improvement in operational efficiency.
In April 2016, Sheikh Mohammed said he would like driverless transport to account for 25 per cent of journeys in the emirate by 2030.
On Saturday, Mr Al Redha said the second challenge is to invent a solution to transform the way cabin crew are trained.
The carrier's third challenge is to develop a solution to integrate the personalised needs of Emirates passengers across the experience chain.
Mr Al Redha said Emirates’ initiatives reflect the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid to use artificial intelligence to enhance the customer experience across Dubai’s airports.
"Emirates will lead the way in this field by introducing unique initiatives that will add value to the aviation industry worldwide," he said.
Sheikh Mohammed said the aviation sector plays a significant role in the development of the country and supports other economic sectors.
"The aviation industry must introduce innovative and sustainable solutions to enhance operations, procedures and the overall travel experience," he said.
Despite many potential uses for autonomous vehicles in the aviation industry, Emirates is the first to use self-driving vehicles in such a way, said Dubai-based chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, Saj Ahmad.
He said Emirates will most likely use the autonomous vehicles to transport cargo.
“The use of autonomous vehicles to transport cargo would seem to be a better fit since cargo doesn’t complain if things go wrong,” he said.
“Emirates’ huge ground fleet operations footprint means that they can experiment on a smaller scale with these autonomous devices before a more progressive roll out to iron out kinks in the system,” said Mr Ahmad.
The use of pre-programmed autonomous vehicles by the airline would also free up people for other tasks, “for example, these machines will be able to operate unaided around the airside area of Dubai International (and/or DWC) and provide logistics and ground support”, a task ordinarily performed by staff, he said.
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The vehicles could also be used to transport passengers to and from planes parked on the tarmac.
“Passengers may feel uneasy, but if we look at this in isolation, is it any different to the Dubai Metro system which also is unmanned? That operates just fine and so passengers will eventually get accustomed to autonomous vehicles ferrying them around the airport if needed. It is also why this autonomy will work better for cargo or freight shipments/connections as there is little or no need for any interaction or intervention,” Mr Ahmad said.