Volocopter unveiled its first VoloPort in downtown Singapore during a demo flight in October 2020. The VoloPort, which took only 4 days to put together, features a basic, fast check-in and lounge area, arranged around a large circular ‘parking spot’ for the electric taxi. It features biometric passporting, and once commercial flights are launched, passengers will be flown from one VoloPort to another.
By 2035, the company aims to have dozens of VoloPorts across Singapore, each with the hope of handling up to 10,000 passengers a day. The flights can be booked on-demand via an app, while travel is emission and traffic-free. The company chose to launch in Singapore as this city is the meeting hub for the wider region and traffic is horrendous, holding back Singapore’s ambition to be one of the leading cities of the world. So autonomous air taxis are much welcomed in this technologically advanced city.
The Air-taxi Revolution
Volocopter currently leads the electric aircraft revolution, although big names like NASA, Boeing and Uber have also tried to enter the ring. In a recent funding round for Volocopter, led by Geely, the Chinese parent company of Volvo, the German start-up raised $55.3 million, with Mercedes-Benz's parent company Daimler, also investing $30 million.
But is this really the future?
There are concerns about how realistic this mode of transport will be.
The carbon-fibre 2X air-taxi weighs only 290kg when empty, meaning it will be extremely affected by strong winds and rain. It’s not clear how these small aircrafts will be able to operate in Singapore’s monsoon seasons without suspending all flights.
Singapore is home to over 200,000 millionaires, with over half of its adult population among the world’s richest 10%. Air-taxis could work for the hotshot businessmen of Singapore, but it’s difficult to imagine that VoloCity could be adopted in other cities where the income inequality is greater.
Flight tests have also taken place in Helsinki, Dubai and Bruchsal (Germany), with tickets for the first official flights costing €300… almost €20 per minute of airtime! These flights are expected to take place within a year of Volocopter’s commercial launch in 2023/4, still some way off.
So although the future seems to be closer than ever, will Volocopter realistically be able to bring efficient air transport into cities?
With 80% of the world’s population expected to live in cities mid-century, mobility is the key to how well cities will work. Old and new cities will have to think fast about how to solve traffic congestion and to cut air pollution at the same time.
Once autonomous air taxis become more affordable and given that the Voloport takes almost no time to construct, Volocopter has a very good shot at leading this transformation. And with names like Mercedes behind it, I expect this is not the last we have heard from Volocopter.