Japan Airlines (JAL) has joined Mitsubishi Estate, and Kanematsu Corporation for Japan’s first crewed flying-vehicle test flights scheduled to take place in 2024.
Mitsubishi Estate has been chosen as an operator of the urban air mobility (UAM) project for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, as part of which the rooftops of Mitsubishi Estate skyscrapers in Tokyo’s Marunouchi business district could be used as pad sites.
In addition, the real estate developer owns suburban parking lots that are also being considered.
The Japanese government aims to fully commercialize electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxis and heavy lift cargo drone business by 2030.
It has set the target of starting the first commercial eVTOL flights during the Osaka World Expo, which will take place in 2025.
Many players in the eVTOL sector plan to debut their air taxis/cars during the Osaka World Expo in 2025.
The eVTOL vehicles are expected to reduce road traffic by providing an alternate mode of transportation for visitors between airports and tourist destinations, thereby offering a flexible mobility solution.
According to Yano Research Institute, headquartered in Japan, the global eVTOL flying-car market’s value could exceed US$ 900 billion by 2050.
Mitsubishi Estate plans to lease its rooftops and parking lots as takeoff and landing pads to eVTOL operators. It aims to expand its business beyond Tokyo to Nagoya and Osaka eventually.
Furthermore, Mitsubishi Estate plans to build residential, business, and retail facilities in areas surrounding these Flying-car pads, expecting them to attract foot traffic.
According to reports, aircraft from Volocopter GmbH (formerly called E-Volo GmbH), a German aircraft manufacturer in which JAL has a stake, are being considered.
The company holds a Guinness Book of World Records for the first manned flight of an “electric multicopter” called the Volocopter VC1 prototype back in 2011.
In September 2020, JAL and Volocopter signed an agreement to jointly explore business opportunities in Japan for air mobility services, particularly for Volocopter’s eVTOL technology.
Volocopter offers three types of eVTOL platforms. Two are air taxis, VoloCity and VoloConnect, while VoloDrone is an uncrewed heavy-lift drone.
VoloCity is an 18-rotor VTOL aircraft with a range of about 35 kilometers and a maximum speed of about 100 kilometers per hour. It can transport up to two passengers, including light luggage like backpacks, briefcases, or purses.
VoloConnect is a fixed-wing aircraft that runs on two propulsion fans, six electric motors, and rotors. It can transport up to four passengers to a distance of 100 kilometers, with a maximum airspeed of 250 kilometers per hour and a cruise speed of 180 kilometers per hour.
While the VoloDrone is designed to offer heavy-lift services to various industries, particularly over rough terrains where traditional transportation modes reach their limits. It can carry a payload of up to 200 kilograms and has a range of 40 kilometers.
In addition to these platforms, Volocopter offers ‘VoloPorts’ and VoloQ as the physical and digital infrastructure for air mobility operations.
In 2021, Volocopter confirmed that JAL had reserved 100 of its eVTOL aircraft, including VoloCity air taxis and VoloDrone cargo vehicles.
Other Air Taxi Players In Japan
Apart from Volocopter, JAL also has a strategic partnership with a UK-based aircraft leasing company, Avolon, as part of which it could purchase or lease up to 50 Vertical VA-X4 eVTOL aircraft with an option to purchase or lease 50 more units.
The VA-X4 (designated as VX4 since December 10, 2021) is a five-seat air taxi designed and built by a Bristol, UK-based startup, Vertical Aerospace Ltd.
It can carry four passengers and has a separate baggage compartment. The aircraft can cruise at a speed of 241 kilometers per hour and has a range of 161 kilometers.
Also, in February, Japan’s largest airline, All Nippon Airways (ANA), announced plans, and Joby Aviation, a California-based flying taxi startup, disclosed plans to launch a flying taxi service from airports to city centers.
Apart from the foreign companies, SkyDrive Inc., a Japanese startup, is also planning to launch its flying cars in the city of Osaka ahead of the World Expo in 2025. The company conducted Japan’s first public test flight of a manned vehicle in 2020.