It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a flying taxi on trial

Artists' impressions of Volocopter's air taxis. The German aviation start-up is working with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to establish the scope of the test flights. The air taxi looks like a helicopter but is based on drone technology.
Artists' impressions of Volocopter's air taxis. The German aviation start-up is working with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to establish the scope of the test flights. The air taxi looks like a helicopter but is based on drone technology. It can be flown by a pilot, via remote control or autonomously.PHOTO: VOLOCOPTER
Artists' impressions of Volocopter's air taxis. The German aviation start-up is working with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to establish the scope of the test flights. The air taxi looks like a helicopter but is based on drone technology.
Artists' impressions of Volocopter's air taxis. The German aviation start-up is working with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to establish the scope of the test flights. The air taxi looks like a helicopter but is based on drone technology. It can be flown by a pilot, via remote control or autonomously.PHOTO: VOLOCOPTER

Test flights for electric-powered drones that can fly two people for 30km set for next year

The Jetsons zoomed around in flying cars in a cartoon series about life in 2062. But people in Singapore may not have to wait that long to see one up close.

German aviation start-up Volocopter announced it will perform a series of urban flight tests of its air taxis in the Republic in the second half of next year. In September last year, it performed a public unmanned test flight in Dubai.

The flight tests are designed to validate and verify the ability of Volocopter's electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles to operate in an urban environment like Singapore's.

The firm's air taxi resembles a helicopter, but is based on drone technology and can fly two people for about 30km. The Volocopter, which features 18 electric-powered propellers, is designed specifically for city missions and can carry 160kg.

In a statement on Wednesday, the company said the tests, which will culminate in public demonstration flights, are supported by the Ministry of Transport, Economic Development Board and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

Volocopter and CAAS will collaborate to establish the scope of the test flights and ensure that they meet the necessary requirements.

CAAS director of aviation industry Ho Yuen Sang was quoted as saying there is potential for air taxis to transform mobility and logistics in urban cities. Volocopter, he added, is at the forefront of such new and innovative technology in the aviation industry. "CAAS is pleased to work together with Volocopter to study the technical capabilities and develop appropriate operational guidelines to facilitate such trials in Singapore."

 
 
 

The German company, which is backed by tech giant Intel and automobile firm Daimler, said it will be setting up a product design and engineering team in Singapore to support its expansion plans.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, Volocopter said the trials will focus on its vehicle's capabilities to perform flights under local conditions.

It will work with government agencies to determine the right testing facilities and locations.

The Volocopter can be flown by a pilot, or unmanned via remote control or autonomously.

For the flight tests in Singapore, the company will work with CAAS to decide the flight mode that is the best for conditions here.

It was previously reported that Volocopter is seeking to partner real estate developers and mobility providers to establish infrastructure that can support flight testing.

A Volocopter spokesman said while its air taxis are currently not being used commercially anywhere, it is focusing on "achieving commercial certification to operate (them) as air taxis". "We expect the first commercial air taxi routes to open in three to five years. We are in discussions with cities around the world, including some in Germany," said the spokesman.

Other companies are also working on self-piloted passenger aircraft, including Airbus.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2018, with the headline 'It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a flying taxi on trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe