The Japanese government has awarded SkyDrive a research grant worth 12.4 billion yen ($82.7 million) as a contribution to the development costs for its three-seat eVTOL aircraft. The country's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has backed the start-up through its small business innovation research (SBIR) program, which provides funding for start-ups developing advanced technologies that could have a positive impact on society. SkyDrive was nominated for the “next-generation air mobility” award category.
Powered entirely by electric batteries, SkyDrive’s eVTOL aircraft could help to reduce Japan’s overall emissions while alleviating congestion on the ground. The Tokyo-based UAM start-up says the vehicle will be a “suitable and accessible aircraft for family, friends, and commuters with an affordable operating cost per person.” It is intended for short journeys, with an anticipated range of just 15 kilometers (9 miles).
While SkyDrive has previously stated that its aircraft would enter service in 2026, the company now says it expects to achieve type certification for commercial operations “in the next five years,” implying that its service entry could potentially slip to 2028. SkyDrive says the SBIR grant will enable it to “develop the aircraft to fully satisfy market demands with the specification required from operators and be mass-produced.”
The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) approved the certification basis for SkyDrive’s two-seat personal eVTOL vehicle in May 2022. Since then, the company has redesigned the aircraft to include an additional seat, making it more suitable for commercial air taxi operations. SkyDrive aims to gain airworthiness certification for the three-seat model in time to fly it at the Osaka World Expo in 2025.
In addition to some initial private-use orders, SkyDrive has signed provisional sales agreements with prospective operators around the world, including South Korea, Vietnam, and South Carolina. The company has also secured some orders from clients in Japan.
Since SkyDrive’s founding in 2018, the company has raised at least $27.4 billion yen ($183 million). In its latest Series C funding round, which closed in September 2022, the company reported having raised more than 10 billion yen ($67 million). That funding round was backed by 13 companies, including the Suzuki Motor Corp., the Kansai Electric Power Company, Kintetsu Group Holdings, and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank.