AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes has revealed that the company plans to launch a flying taxi service as soon as next year, according to Bloomberg “We are working on that right now. I think we are about a year and a half away from launching,” said Fernandes during an online discussion as part of the Youth Economic Forum recently.

This plan comes about as the budget airline is looking to expand its range of services, particularly in the digital place. The company introduced an “all-in-one” app last year that covered travel, shopping, logistics, food delivery, logistics, financial services and more.

“We took it as an opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to recast your business, re-look at things,” Fernandes said, adding that ground-based e-hailing services are expected to offered beginning in April this year.

The flying taxi service that AirAsia plans for next year will see the use of quadcopters that have a seating capacity for up to four people. However, it wasn’t said if these vehicles will have a pilot or be fully autonomous, although the former is more likely for safety requirements. There’s also the matter of where there flying taxis will be able to land, so proper regulations will have to be readied before such a service takes off.

Beyond flying taxis, a new service the company is aiming to provide is urban drone delivery, with Teleport – the logistics venture of AirAsia Digital – announcing a partnership with the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), the lead secretariat of the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox (NTIS). This sees the introduction of Urban Drone Delivery Sandbox to develop a long-term viability of urban drone delivery service.

A pilot project for the delivery of goods from AirAsia’s e-commerce platforms using automated drones is set to be carried out through a six-month phased approach at the third NTIS test site in Cyberjaya. The service is currently being tested with two local drone operators: VStream Revolution and Meraque Services.

The first phase of the project will assess the capability, experience, approval process, deployment readiness and service expansion of the drone operators. Following a successful trial phase, the service will be deployed and might even be expanded beyond the sandbox environment.

NTIS has been working closely with Malaysia’s sole technical regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM), to ensure the safety and security of unmanned air services in urban settings meet the requirements and regulations as set by CAAM.

In Malaysia, all matters relating to aircraft – including drones – are under the purview of CAAM, and there are no drone operator licences available yet, as their implementation is still being worked out. However, there are still rules like no-fly zones to follow, and if you own a particular type or drone or plan to use it for aerial work, you must first obtain a permit.

Even with AirAsia looking towards other service opportunities, the company is optimistic that air travel will pick up again with the rollout of vaccination programs. “I hope interstate travel will start in the next two to three weeks within Malaysia,” said Fernandes, who added that he expects international borders to start opening in July or August.