By Jen Nevans

Managing editor Jen Nevans has more than a decade of editorial experience. She is an award-winning writer and editor, receiving numerous accolades for her published articles. Jen is eager to join the eVTOL.com team and cover this exciting and growing industry.

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Japan’s SkyDrive signals the start of eVTOL type certification process

Japanese eVTOL designer SkyDrive is the first in the country whose application for type certification for an eVTOL aircraft has been accepted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT), the company announced last Friday.

SkyDrive piloted flight demo
SkyDrive’s SD-03 eVTOL prototype during its public flight demonstration in August 2020. SkyDrive image.

As the first eVTOL developer to reach this stage in Japan, the announcement signals that SkyDrive is ready to proceed with the type certification process for its compact eVTOL aircraft — a process that typically takes years to complete. The company is one of many eVTOL designers hoping to deploy its aircraft in the Osaka Bay area in 2025, in time for World Expo that year.

“This is a big step forward for the realization of the urban air mobility society in Japan,” a representative from SkyDrive told eVTOL.com by email.

Under Japan’s Civil Aeronautics Law, MLIT issues a type certificate to developers whose design, structure, strength, and performance of a newly developed aircraft meet the necessary safety and environmental requirements, as determined through various strength and flight tests.

In a company press release, Tomohiro Fukuzawa, CEO of SkyDrive said the company has been discussing how to safety develop and test this type of aircraft since the Public-Private Council to promote urban air mobility (UAM) was launched in Japan in 2018 and SkyDrive received permission for the first outdoor test flight of its flying car.

“We are very pleased that our application for type certification has been accepted, and we will continue to work in close partnership with the government and MLIT to complete our development of a wholly safe and reliable ‘flying car,’” Fukuzawa stated.

SkyDrive is not disclosing the performance specifications, design and appearance of the SD-05 aircraft yet, but a company representative said it is working to ensure the specifications are sufficient to allow passengers to travel around the city.  

SkyDrive is also working with EY Strategy and Consulting to help advance its air mobility business. The team of consultants will support SkyDrive by conducting research on domestic and international markets and competitors, designing business strategies, roadmaps, and business plans, and developing products and services.

Japan, just like other countries around the world, is still nailing down the exact regulatory framework and developing certification criteria for this new sector. A representative from the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau’s (JCAB) Planning Office for Advanced Air Mobility previously told eVTOL.com that JCAB is looking at a regulatory framework closer to that of the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) than the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), although the JCAB is sharing information with both regulators to develop its standards and type certification criteria.

“As SkyDrive is looking to expand its business globally, we hope that JCAB’s type certification will be compatible with both the FAA and EASA in the future,” the SkyDrive representative said.

Along with regulatory hurdles, the UAM sector continues to see public acceptance as a potential barrier to success. To help prepare the public for this futuristic technology, SkyDrive has partnered with Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City to conduct demonstration tests to promote the introduction and commercialization of its eVTOL aircraft.

SkyDrive conducted its first demo flight with a small-scale model in Osaka Prefecture a few weeks ago. While the company has not decided how many flight tests it will conduct in the future, it is aiming to start flight tests with a full-scale model in the Osaka Bay area around 2024.

SkyDrive and the Osaka government hope the tests will show the public how useful and safe UAM can be, as well as identify issues that need to be addressed before UAM can become a reality in the country — a move that the city’s mayor believes will provide great benefits to the public.

“Once ‘flying cars’ become an established means of transportation, they will do more than shorten travel times and improve convenience,” stated Ichiro Matsui, mayor of Osaka City, in a press release. “They can also be used to respond to disasters, as a tourist resource, and to address various administrative issues.”

To help bring UAM to Japan, the government in 2018 established the Public-Private Council for Advanced Air Mobility — of which SkyDrive and other major eVTOL developers are members — to keep the public and private sector on target to launch UAM at the Expo in 2025.

According to a roadmap developed by the task force, operations could start as early as 2023, ramping up to full-scale UAM deployment across the country by 2030.

This article has been updated with comments from SkyDrive.

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