Perhaps, Cities in Southeast Asia to Have Flying Taxi, Soon
German aviation startup Volocopter is teaming up with Grab, the predominant ride-hailing app in Southeast Asia, to launch an air taxi experiment. The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding to “look into the most suitable cities and routes to deploy air taxis in Southeast Asian cities; evaluate the best use cases for air taxis; and explore the possibility of joint flight tests, among other things", the Verge reported.
This is the first step in a partnership that could eventually result in actually running test flights and establishing routes for air taxi service deployment, though how far things go will likely depend on the results of this study and the subsequent appetites of both parties involved.
Volocopter recently demonstrated its electric aircraft at a tech conference in Singapore, complete with a temporary “VoloPort” landing pad that was meant to illustrate a future in which we use electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) vehicles to hop from rooftop to rooftop in dense urban settings.
The partnership with Grab is another sign that Volocopter sees Southeast Asia as a likely launchpad for its aerial ambitions. Headquartered in Singapore, Grab also operates Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Japan. “This collaboration also offers the potential for a much larger cooperation which could eventually extend intermodal mobility to the skies,” Florian Reuter, the CEO of Volocopter, said in a statement.
Grab seems to see Volocopter and its aerial taxi services as another potential piece of the overall puzzle that it’s putting together across various transportation methods. “This partnership will enable Volocopter to further develop urban air mobility solutions that are relevant for Southeast Asian commuters so they can decide on their preferred journey option based on their budgets, time constraints and other needs, in a seamless way,” said Grab Ventures CEO Chris Yeo as quoted by Techcrunch.
As a superapp that operates across 339 cities in Southeast Asia, Grab has gathered traffic patterns and customer insights in the region that can help our teams come up with the most innovative mobility solutions to plug the gaps in the transport landscape,” he further adds.
For a region infamous for its densely populated cities and unforgiving traffic, Southeast Asia will benefit from having on-demand air taxi services.
Indeed, inadequate road capacity, aging infrastructure, or poorly integrated public transportation plague millions of commuters daily in sprawling metropolises the likes of Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Bangkok.
It will however, also take more than a Volocopter-Grab partnership to launch and commercialise urban air mobility.
Safety is an obvious concern. Kitty Hawk – flying car venture funded by Google co-founder Larry Page – has been beset with frequent breakdowns and battery fires.
Taking flying taxis to the masses could also be tall order for now. Uber is testing vertical takeoff and landing vehicles as part of its aerial ride-sharing venture uberAir, but estimates a cost of US$5.73 per passenger mile. By contrast, conventional car ownership in the United States costs between US$0.464 to US$0.608.
Hence, it is more likely than not that air taxis would begin or remain an urban upper-class luxury for at least the first few years.
Moreover, the local ecosystem – both physical and regulatory – in each Southeast Asian country will need to play catch up with Grab-Volocopter’s expansion plans. This is also why Volocopter is also working with leading partners in infrastructure, operations, and air traffic management to build up the local air taxi infrastructure.
Source : The Verge | Techcrunch | Engaget