SINGAPORE: Save the date: Your first glimpse of a flying air-taxi could be in two weeks' time, over Singapore’s Marina Bay.
If the weather holds out, the Volocopter 2X will fly over the reservoir at noon on Oct 22.
While the manned flight will last just three minutes, air taxis could in future become a more common sight in Singapore – and the world.
German company Volocopter told the media at a preview on Sep 30 that it had conducted closed-door trials at Seletar Airport every day the week before.
The trials tested the passenger drone’s performance in Singapore’s hot and humid weather, and also demonstrated the feasibility and safety of the aircraft to authorities.
The test flights have received the support of the Ministry of Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, as well as the Economic Development Board.
Volocopter said it intends to start accepting its first paying passengers within the next two to three years.
Dubai – where Volocopter flew an unmanned trial in 2017 – and Singapore remain contenders for where the first point-to-point routes could be deployed, according to co-founder Alexander Zosel.
“In the end, we want to have Volocopter systems here in Singapore as a public transport system for business travellers or tourists. The plan is to open the first route in the next two to three years, but this will be defined with the authorities, and that could be a tourist case or a business case for example from the airport to the business district,” said Mr Zosel.
The firm plans to expand fast after launching, targeting cities in “two to three continents” at the same time.
It also has plans to produce “tens of thousands” of units of the aircraft per year once it goes commercial, compared to conventional airliners, which typically produce less than a hundred per model annually.
THE PATH TO COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS
However, the drone that will fly over Marina Bay in October will never carry paying passengers.
Volocopter is using the current 2X model only for research and development and training purposes.
The model cannot be flown as a commercial aircraft, as it has been certified in Europe as a sporting aircraft.
Under those regulations, it is illegal for sports aircraft to have autonomous systems onboard, which Volocopter intends to develop on its passenger drones.
Instead, the German company is developing a new commercial model according to new regulations by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s Special Condition for small-category VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft.
According to Volocopter, the new model will be even safer. It will also be bigger, have larger batteries, and be able to fly longer. The company has also made changes to its aerodynamics to make forward flights more stable and efficient.
In the meantime, the company has been exploring partnerships to build infrastructure for take-off and landing points, as well as to develop the digital infrastructure needed to pilot these flights autonomously.
Mr Zosel said the company has had discussions with landlords in Singapore, but is unable to announce anything yet.
“It's a process. It’s also about growing partnerships with the ecosystem in Singapore. Not only with the authorities, also players like 5G network providers are very important to operate this aircraft, so we want to create an ecosystem here with different players."
The public flight will take place as part of the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, which runs from Oct 21 to 25. During the Congress, Volocopter and its infrastructure partner Skyports will also showcase their design for a take-off and landing site, the VoloPort.