This might still sound like science fiction to many people, but the race for flying-taxi dominance is on and is gaining fresh fuel as the new decade looms. The results of this race in the sky could impact not only mobility services in various cities but retail delivery efforts.
In a new PYMNTS interview, Florian Reuter, CEO at Volocopter, talked about this company’s role in this potential new ecosystem — the firm makes flying taxis, which look, at first glance, like massive drones — and what’s coming next for this particular technology. The news came as the company raised some $55 million in new funding — capital that will go toward the development of new, commercially viable flying taxies, he told PYMNTS.
So when can people expect that?
“It might be fewer years than people expect,” Reuter said, adding that he is working toward a 2022 goal. That might mean, he said, a commercially viable flying-taxi operation in places such as Singapore and Dubai, where density would support such a business and which could appeal not only to locals but also to tourists. Even if a flying-taxi operation captured only a small sliver of transportation or mobility business — a single-digit percentage — that could still prove profitable over time given the high populations of the world’s largest metro areas, he said.
Of course, Volocopter is not the only player in the flying-taxi game. Boeing and Uber are among the other companies getting one step closer to their vision of flying taxis. According to a report in CNBC, Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop said in a statement that the company thinks it is on the right path to creating air taxis that are self-driving and can be called upon on demand. “In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype,” he said in a statement from earlier this year.
Both Boeing and Bell have inked partnerships with Uber, the ride-hailing app company that is already in the planning stages for its Uber Air taxi service, noted the report. At the same time, Airbus (a Boeing rival) and Volocopter, a startup out of Germany, are in the throes of creating their air taxi prototypes. Uber has a target date of 2023 to launch Uber Air, while others in the market think it will take far longer for flying taxis to get the blessing of the Federal Aviation Administration.
As for Volocopter, it is also busy building an infrastructure for a potential flying-taxi ecosystem. That company and Skyports recently announced that they are teaming up to build the first mobile Volo-Port for air taxis. The Volo-Port will be the physical landing pad for electric take-off and landing (eVTOL) — the more technical term for the flying taxis. The partners plan to build it in Singapore for scheduled public flight trials in the second half of 2019.
The prototype will allow real-life testing of the full customer journey; showcase planned customer services, including pre-flight checks, passenger lounges and boarding procedures; enable practical testing of ground operations and services, including battery swaps and charging, maintenance, safety and security; and give authorities and industry regulators the chance to interact with the infrastructure, and provide feedback, before approving the final design.
The story is still being written when it comes to flying taxis, but as Reuter told it to PYMNTS, one possibility is that the vehicles could be used for some types of retail delivery. He said he does not envision competing with the likes of Amazon or Uber drones on small package deliveries — that is, deliveries for packages of, say, 10 pounds or less. “We can carry a much larger payload than that,” he said. “We consider ourselves a heavy load transition vehicle.”
That is still in the future. For now, technology testing awaits, as do more regulatory approvals that will clear the air for flying-taxi services. However, don’t be afraid to look up — the flying-taxi race is undoubtedly underway.