SINGAPORE: Air taxis will soon be hovering over Singapore's skies as trials are set to get underway in 2019.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) revealed on Tuesday (Apr 9) that initial trials with German company Volocopter will take place in the southern part of Singapore.
Speaking at a media briefing at the Rotorcraft Asia trade show, CAAS’ deputy director of transformation programmes Mr Tan Chun Wei said that this will take place "over water".
"We are going to take off where we land. For the first phase, it’s very much into experimental. For a start … it is going to be over water, and we are going to work with Volocopter on the safety aspects to ensure that even flying over water, it wouldn’t pose a public or even aviation risk. The landing spot will be somewhere in the southern part of Singapore," Mr Tan added.
Volocopter’s CEO Florian Reuter told CNA that the company has plans for the first trials to commence in the second half of the year and that they "are very well within the timeline".
Mr Reuter added that the company is in a "preparation phase" for the upcoming trials, and will be bringing an operational vehicle to Singapore "in the upcoming months".
"We need to clarify logistics; where to store it (the vehicle), where do we get the technicians, who do we have to bring from our team and so on," he added.
"Ultimately, we (have) come up with a very comprehensive trial plan in terms of what is the documentation that CAAS needs to see. We have already exchanged a lot of that and CAAS is in constant exchange with EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) … but sometimes they require additional information. It might be very specific to the Singapore environment (such as) heat tests, humidity tests … these sort of things."
Mr Reuter said that a public trial will be "the last element" of the testing, with Mr Tan adding that this will be done by the end of the year.
AS AFFORDABLE AS A GRAB RIDE IN THE LONG TERM
Mr Reuter said that he anticipates Volocopter rides to be as affordable as that of hailing a ride-sharing car "within the next five to 10 years".
"If you look at the way we build the Volocopter, if you look at the materials that we use and the components that we use … there’s no reason why when manufactured and operated at scale, it should stay much more expensive than a traditional car ride," he said.
"So in the long run, we don’t want you to own the Volocopter. We want to use the Volocopter just like you hail a Grab ride today. It will be affordable for everyone for particular trips where it makes sense to take an air taxi," said Mr Reuter.
Volocopter's website shows that the aircraft is primarily constructed from fibre composites and has a maximum take-off weight of 450kg.
The aircraft, which take off and land vertically, can accommodate two people and fly distances of up to 30km. Although they look like helicopters, the aircraft is based on drone technology.
Volocopters can be flown with varying degrees of autonomy - fully autonomous with a pilot on a joystick, or remote-controlled from the ground.
Mr Reuter said that the company believes the Volocopter can be deployed for various applications in Singapore.
The first sees the aircraft being used as an air taxi, shuttling passengers from one place to another. The second is it being used as a tourist attraction.
"Singapore (has) some very attractive tourist spots, (and) we believe this could be an interesting addition, (operating) a round-trip, whether that’s Marina Bay or Sentosa ... or other spots that we want to observe from above," he added.
Mr Reuter said that the Volocopter could be used for industrial purposes. This includes ship guidance or supporting construction or agriculture industries.
"What we found in Singapore, is we found a very live and competent UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) ecosystem of UAV activity, which we can tap into," he added.
"We very much (look) forward to partner with local companies here in Singapore. Our model explicitly foresees local partnerships with local operating companies in order to benefit from the local know-how.”