The eVTOL developer Volocopter and its infrastructure partner Skyports will demonstrate their urban air mobility solution in Singapore during the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress starting Oct. 21.
Skyports co-founder and managing director Duncan Walker announced the date of the demonstration on Tuesday during the inaugural Global Urban Air Summit (GUAS) in Farnborough, U.K. The companies had previously announced their agreement to collaborate on a mobile “Volo-Port” to be built by the end of the year.
Walker said the full-scale Volo-Port, currently under construction, will be shipped to Singapore at the end of September and assembled there in October in time for the demonstrations around Singapore’s Marina Bay.
“We’re going to run a whole lot of test scenarios, see what works operationally as vehicles move around, [evaluate] recharging, the customer feedback, regulator input, and demonstrate how that end-to-end ecosystem can work,” he told GUAS attendees.
According to Walker, the companies have gotten “great engagement” from Singapore’s leaders and Civil Aviation Authority, who are targeting the launch of commercial air taxi operations by the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022. “The very clear view is that they want to be the operational first market in Asia,” he said. “So we are using [the demonstration] as the kickoff . . . to drive that market and demonstrate to Asia and the rest of the world how this can work in cities.”
The London-based startup Skyports is focused on securing, designing, building, and owning passenger and cargo vertiports in the world’s major cities — a role that Walker said is becoming increasingly relevant as eVTOL air taxi developers begin defining their paths to market. Walker said the company is working with multiple eVTOL developers, not just Volocopter, as “the vast majority of the big manufacturers we’ve worked with recognize that to get efficient and low-cost infrastructure, you’ve got to have a throughput of vehicles. The vehicle market isn’t winner-takes-all.”
By handling the “quite difficult and quite capital intensive” business of building out infrastructure, Skyports aims to help eVTOL companies launch operations sooner than if they managed the process themselves.
“Infrastructure has a hugely long lead time,” Walker pointed out. “If you want to market by 2023, you’ve got to be talking about infrastructure two years ago — planning permits, agreements with land owners, certification from aviation authorities who don’t have a mechanism for certifying these things. It is hugely time-consuming and a little bit woolly. So we’re out there doing it now and trying to enable those first mover markets.”
Walker noted that political support has been key to the swift pace of progress in Singapore, and will be critical to the success of urban air mobility more generally — even more so than public acceptance, he suggested.
“I don’t think societal acceptance is going to be as big an issue as a number of other people in this room think,” he told GUAS attendees. “And the reason I don’t think it is because this could well launch in markets which have a much higher tolerance for new technology and, frankly, risk. And then that will translate to Western society; more regulated society. . . . To make this industry successful, it’s got to be successful in multiple places.”