Japan Airlines (JAL) and eVTOL aircraft developer Volocopter are to jointly promote the development of urban air mobility services for passengers and goods in Japan. The cooperation agreement signed on September 29 builds on the investment that the Japan Airlines Innovation Fund made in the German company in February 2020.
JAL and Volocopter will jointly approach several of the largest Japanese cities and prefectures as part of a plan to establish local partnerships to support operations with the VoloCity and a freight-carrying version called the VoloDrone. The partners say they expect to achieve a commercial launch within the next three years, with the VoloCity set to complete type certification with the European Aviation Safety Agency by early 2023.
The Japanese airline says it will support the launch of services with its extensive experience in aircraft operations. It also aims to use the two-seat Volocopter aircraft to deliver medical care to remote areas across Japan.
Two other investors in Volocopter, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance and MS&AD InterRisk Research & Consulting, will join the collaboration to promote the launch of eVTOL operations in Japan. Volcopter, which was founded in 2011, has raised €122 million ($143 million) in equity funding. Other investors include German automotive group Daimler, Chinese carmaker Geely, and logistics specialist DB Schenker, as well as finance groups Intel Capital, Team Europe, Btov, Mircon, and Manta Ray Ventures.
Volocopter has conducted several public flight demonstrations with the VoloCity in locations such as Singapore, Dubai, Helsinki, and the German city of Stuttgart. Earlier this month, it started selling reservations for the first 1,000 flights.
Until the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, business and general aviation had been increasing in Japan over recent years albeit from a low base, according to the Japan Business Aviation Association. Due to various factors, such as restrictions on airport access for private aircraft, only around 300 general aviation aircraft were based in Japan in 2019 and only about 30 of these were business jets.
In the five years up to early 2019, business aviation traffic in Japan grew by an average of just over 10 percent annually, according to the country’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Tourism. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, where airport access has historically been challenging, the number of aircraft movements grew by 15.5 percent in 2018, and in Aichi prefecture, which includes the cities of Nagoya and Chubu, traffic grew by around 12 percent.