Air taxis aim to be as safe as commercial airlines

German aviation start-up Volocopter will perform a series of urban flight tests of its air taxis in Singapore in the second half of 2019.
A Volocopter 2X on display at a media preview at the Rotorcraft Asia 2019 and Unmanned Systems Asia 2019 exhibition held at the Changi Exhibition Centre. The air taxis will initially take flight with a pilot, as it would be easier for the company to
A Volocopter 2X on display at a media preview at the Rotorcraft Asia 2019 and Unmanned Systems Asia 2019 exhibition held at the Changi Exhibition Centre. The air taxis will initially take flight with a pilot, as it would be easier for the company to get government approval.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Volocopter's chief executive Florian Reuter said that should any of its critical components fail, the machines would still be able to "complete their mission" and arrive at their destination.
Volocopter's chief executive Florian Reuter said that should any of its critical components fail, the machines would still be able to "complete their mission" and arrive at their destination.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Mr Florian Reuter said Volocopter will be conducting private flight tests here in the third quarter of this year, which will be followed by public flight trials.
Mr Florian Reuter said Volocopter will be conducting private flight tests here in the third quarter of this year, which will be followed by public flight trials.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Volocopter machines to be tested here will reach destination even if any critical components fail: CEO

The air taxis from German aviation start-up Volocopter will have "unprecedented levels of safety", said its chief executive Florian Reuter, with the company aiming to begin Singapore test flights in the third quarter of the year.

He gave the assurance yesterday that should any of its critical components fail, the Volocopter machines would still be able to "complete their mission" and arrive at their destination, owing to a design that has multiple components that run independently.

"In order to be operating these vehicles in cities around the world, we need to be as safe as commercial airlines. That is the safety level that has been set for this vehicle," he said at the Rotorcraft Asia 2019 and Unmanned Systems Asia 2019 exhibition held at the Changi Exhibition Centre.

Singapore is currently looking at how air transport can be used to enhance the transport landscape here, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore's deputy director of transformation programmes Tan Chun Wei, who took part in a panel discussion with Mr Reuter.

Responding to a question about where the Volocopter machines will take off and land here, he said the trials will take place "over water".

"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," he added. "The landing spot will be somewhere in the southern part of Singapore."

Last October, The Straits Times reported that Volocopter would be performing a series of urban flight tests of its air taxis in the Republic from June this year. Mr Reuter gave an update to this timeline, and said Volocopter will be conducting private flight tests here in the third quarter of this year, which will be followed by public flight trials.

He also said that while many recognise Volocopter's machines for their unmanned potential, these air taxis will initially take flight with a pilot, as it would be easier for the company to get government approval.

  • Seletar Aerospace Park to offer indoor spaces for drone testing

    JTC and the Association of Aerospace Industries Singapore (AAIS) announced yesterday that they will provide indoor test beds within Seletar Aerospace Park for commercial applications of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), otherwise known as drones.

    Indoor spaces housed within JTC's high-rise developments at Seletar Aerospace Park will provide a safe and controlled environment for companies to conduct development trials and customer demonstrations, they said in a media statement.

    Implementation details are being worked out and companies that are keen to use these spaces can approach AAIS to register their interest.

    AAIS chief executive Sia Kheng Yok said UAS is finding applications in smart cities, security, agriculture, mining, construction and resource management. He also announced the formation of the Singapore UAS Community to support the industry.

    JTC director for aerospace, marine and urban solutions cluster Glory Wee said the provision of the test beds will support the development and commercialisation of UAS technologies. "We are confident this new initiative will enable more industry partnerships to be catalysed in Singapore."


    Surbana Jurong partners start-up to develop drone solutions

    Urban and infrastructure consultancy Surbana Jurong and drone start-up AeroLion Technologies have joined hands to develop unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technologies, or drone solutions, for built and natural environments, said the parties yesterday.

    Under a memorandum of understanding, the partners will develop UAV solutions for project applications such as land reclamation, workplace safety and fault detection in enclosed areas such as buildings and tunnels.

    Through the partnership, Surbana Jurong aims to integrate the solutions into its processes to raise productivity and offer advance data-driven UAV solutions to its global clients. This will be done by combining operational data with the UAV's artificial intelligence platforms.

    Mr Wong Heang Fine, Surbana Jurong's group chief executive, said the company already uses UAVs as part of its project processes. These include conducting inspections and surveillance, as well as security-led activities by its subsidiary Aetos.

    The company also has a dedicated digital management office to drive technology applications throughout the group and improve efficiencies.

    "Our collaboration with AeroLion Technologies will further ensure our leadership in the area of UAV applications," said Mr Wong.

    Mr Wang Fei, CEO of AeroLion Technologies, said: "By collaborating with Surbana Jurong, we aim to share our UAV expertise in the built environment while learning from one of the best in this industry."

    The statement added that AeroLion Technologies is slated to launch "novel solutions" for the built environment, following its recent launch of autonomous tunnel inspection UAV platforms. The firm produces unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, which can carry sensors and cameras.

 
 

"Yes, the Volocopter can also be operated autonomously in the long run. However, we believe we would make it much easier for certification agencies across the world if we start out with a certified pilot. So expect Volocopter services to have a certified fully licensed pilot initially," he said, before the firm "takes the pilot out".

Mr Reuter also showed several possible future routes that air taxis in Singapore could take. One is a 26km flight from Tuas to the Central Business District, while another is an 18km route from Changi to Sentosa. He also showed potential international routes such as a 26km route from central Singapore to Johor, and a 22km trip from Sentosa to Batam.

Although not many details were revealed about the cost of these rides, Mr Reuter said they will be greatly cheaper than conventional helicopter rides, and will aim to reach the prices of private-hire car services. The approximate cost of a 20km journey on a helicopter in the United States is $350.

Volocopter's air taxis can take a maximum payload of 160kg and has a rate of climb of up to 3 metres per second. It has a maximum airspeed of 100kmh and at a cruise speed of 50kmh, it has a flight time of less than half an hour.

Mr Tan said: "In Singapore, you know that we talk a lot about smart nation, smart mobility, and this whole urban area mobility thing is totally blurring the lines of transportation. Going forward, we are looking at how we can use air transportation to complement our land transportation."

In September 2017, Volocopter performed a public unmanned test flight in Dubai, where it partnered with the country's Roads and Transport Authority.

Mr Reuter said: "Helicopters today are very useful, but they are not used very much because of these constraints: safety and noise. Volocopter addresses these constraints and, therefore, we believe we have a completely new mode of transportation available now, and will also be very valuable for certain applications in Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'Air taxis aim to be as safe as commercial airlines'. Print Edition | Subscribe