Volocopter’s approach to bringing urban air mobility (UAM) to cities will focus heavily on strong partnerships, according to a white paper released by the company, an approach the German air taxi developer sees as less risky than a more vertically integrated ecosystem.
Targeting the end of 2022 for certification of its two-seat VoloCity multicopter, Volocopter intends to be one of, if not the first, to launch commercial eVTOL air taxi operations worldwide. Beginning with Singapore and Paris, Volocopter has laid some of the groundwork for its entry into numerous global markets through partnerships announced over the past few years and public demonstrations of its aircraft.
“Volocopter has charted out a partnership-oriented roadmap to scalable UAM and continuously expanding partnerships to offer the safest, most comprehensive, value delivering UAM ecosystem possible for future service,” according to the company’s white paper released on Mar. 24, titled “The Roadmap to Scalable Urban Air Mobility.”
“The partnership approach addresses the challenges of a vertically integrated UAM ecosystem by mitigating time pressure, distributing investments, and ensuring expertise across the breadth of topics related to building up the UAM industry ecosystem,” the paper states. “As a result, Volocopter has elaborated a concrete, realistic and de-risked roadmap to implement UAM at scale.”
Many eVTOL players are focused on capturing as much of the value chain as possible, building out their own digital and physical infrastructure solutions as well as customer-facing interfaces and demand aggregation systems.
Volocopter has chosen to work with numerous partners on many of these elements — Southeast Asia-based mobility app Grab on provision of multi-modal services; Lufthansa Industry Solutions on VoloIQ, the company’s UAM software platform; and Skyports on the construction and operation of VoloPorts, to name a few examples.
But the company isn’t simply going to manufacture aircraft — in partnership with automotive giants Geely and Daimler — either. In parallel with its certification efforts, Volocopter is applying for an Air Operator Certificate with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and plans to take a hybrid approach to maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) work.
“Volocopter believes that it will be beneficial to have MRO locations very close to the globally distributed air taxi operations. This can be achieved with a proprietary MRO unit, close collaboration with existing players to jointly develop the required expertise, or with a hybrid solution,” the white paper states. “Volocopter is choosing the hybrid approach, establishing a strategic MRO concept to serve as the basis for evaluation, auditing and selection of providers to supplement in-house capabilities.”
Emphasizing the importance of strategic partners is not novel to the industry, though eVTOL competitors vary dramatically in the extent to which they are vertically integrated — both for manufacturing of their aircraft and development of the surrounding ecosystem.
The recent white paper also laid out many of Volocopter’s strategic considerations in bringing a multicopter to market. Compared to lift plus cruise, tiltrotor and tilt-wing aircraft under development by competitors, Volocopter believes its VoloCity will be a better fit for intra-city aerial mobility not only due to simplicity and noise, but also the realities of operating within cities. Even if larger aircraft are able to meet yet-to-be-determined noise requirements, Volocopter expects demand to mirror ground taxi services, which seldom carry more than one passenger at a time.
However, the cruise speed of the VoloCity — expected to be 80 to 100 kilometers per hour, or 50 to 62 miles per hour — may not be able to save riders enough time to warrant the cost of the service. Volocopter estimates a trip from New York’s JFK Airport to Times Square would take 20 minutes, compared to 43 minutes by taxi.
“In short, people can save 50 percent of the time spent on their airport to city routes by avoiding potential traffic with air taxis, while benefiting from increased reliability,” the white paper states.
But in practice, almost all air taxi trips will require at least one, if not two, ground trips to pick up and drop off riders. Factoring in this time makes for a very different cost-benefit equation and explains why Uber Elevate — which largely defined the aircraft characteristic requirements followed today by Joby Aviation, Archer, Hyundai, Vertical Aerospace, and developers of similar aircraft — emphasized the need for high speeds in-flight to deliver time savings that outweigh the inherent friction of multi-modal transportation.
Volocopter expects fully autonomous air taxi services to be possible by 2032 through improvements in communications and navigation systems, detect-and-avoid capabilities, air traffic management systems that don’t rely on voice contact with air traffic controllers, and numerous other ecosystem improvements. The company expects autonomy to deliver improved safety outcomes and more attractive passenger unit economics, including cheaper fares, though the company declined to provide specifics in that area as part of the UAM roadmap publication.
“While every city is different and special, some core elements of launching a new service will be similar across the globe. Volocopter acknowledges diversity and integrating flexibility in the approach to market while aiming to capitalize on the early access to market by using the lessons learned,” the company states. “A healthy mix of local autonomy and central launch strategy and oversight is what Volocopter will apply to its global growth.”
To enable that growth, Volocopter recently raised a $240 million Series D and is purportedly looking at going public via merger with a blank-check acquisition firm. Patent filings by the company last year also revealed internal work on a winged eVTOL design intended for longer-range routes, which Volocopter chief financial officer Rene Griemens confirmed during a conversation hosted by IPO Edge will have four passenger seats.