More Website Templates at Website Template

[UP IN THE AIR] ‘Only few will succeed in air taxi commercialization’

[UP IN THE AIR] ‘Only few will succeed in air taxi commercialization’
Butterfly, an urban air mobility aircraft co-developed by Hanwha Systems and Overair, flies across the sky in Yeouido, Seoul, in a virtually developed picture. (Hanwha Systems)
The race to come out on top in the future mobility sector is reaching a fever pitch. Market estimates show there are at least 200 global carmakers, aircraft manufacturers, telecommunication firms and startups working on developing urban air mobility (UAM) or flying cars. And Korean companies are no exception.Hanwha Systems, the country’s major defense electronics and related smart technologies and infrastructure service provider, is seeking to pivot its airspace business to target the general public. According to Ryu Shi-yang, vice president at Hanwha Systems leading the firm’s UAM business, the Korean company aims to run air taxis in Seoul by 2025. Its biggest mission, besides more rounds of ground tests with a full-scale prototype, involves understanding Seoul’s airspace. “There are both advantages and disadvantages in Seoul’s skies. It’s complex and highly populated, and there are airspace restrictions due to security for its location,” Ryu said via a video interview last week. He is currently in the US spearheading the UAM co-development project with Overair.“Both thorough consideration and investigation must simultaneously take place. The sticking point will be whether the established UAM aircraft will be able to guarantee the safety of riders during operation under inclement weather and next to numerous skyscrapers.”In that context, Ryu said only few would be able to succeed in commercializing air taxis.“Only when the safety level of UAM becomes equivalent or is upgraded to those of helicopters, the use of air taxis will broaden in the market. Those who solve the issues regarding air taxis’ noise or airspace operation through technology will successfully appeal to the public and offer familiar services they can comfortably use,” said Ryu. In terms of bringing air taxis to Seoul by 2025, Ryu said the government is likely to greenlight the service and the related infrastructure will be established when technical feasibility is assured.“When you look at the Blackberry, it was launched in the market earlier but the iPhone has been sweeping the market until now, it is sometimes not the best to become a market pioneer. But in terms of aligning government regulations, early starters can get benefits as they can form an initial market landscape as they want,” he said.“When an excellent quality UAM aircraft is invented, the market will be formed including the establishment of infrastructure for at least trial operation. That is why achieving the mature-level of technical feasibility has the most urgency.”Other services, such as setting up vertiport landing pads, maintenance and repair, as well as procurement of related parts will later be addressed, he added. In 2019, Hanwha Systems became the largest shareholder of US electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft manufacturer Overair through a $25 million investment in 2019. “It was around in 2018 when Hanwha Systems sought for an opportunity to join the new market at the strategic inflection point,” said Ryu. “I was confident that electricity-powered solutions will become pivotal in the future mobility market and Hanwha’s airspace and defense expertise will create synergy and play a major role in that field.”The two companies work separately but strategically. Overair lays out the basic concepts for production of eVTOL, while Hanwha designs specific modules to build function such as the aircraft control system, resistance software and propulsion control system. Hanwha’s other subsidiaries also pitch in, with a group of workers in the US in charge of procuring parts. Just two years after working together, Hanwha Systems and Overair conducted a full-scale propulsion system test for its co-developed UAM aircraft called Butterfly in the Southern California desert. It was a major milestone for both firms, as they could validate the design choices and correlate the simulation results to real-world data. Ryu said Hanwha and Overair’s Butterfly has a major advantage over competitors in both public acceptance and passenger comfort such as less noise and vibration, thanks to the company’s patented Optimum Speed Tiltrotor technology which has a far higher system performance than typical tiltrotors.“Butterfly’s four large, slow tiltrotors makes it a more efficient and faster aircraft on less power. With much-smaller propellers compared to those of helicopter, it can cruise, take off and land while enduring inclement weather,” Ryu said.While battery is another big focus in order to achieve aerodynamic efficiency, Ryu said the firm will look for a partner that has the best fit with Butterfly, not necessarily opting for Hanwha’s battery package module just because it is a co-developer. “Korean firms definitely have competitiveness in the global stage, regarding their high-quality production in battery materials, avionics system and submodules. Partnering with those who excel in designing aircraft, airspace operation, building vertical takeoff processes will allow Korean firms with easier entry to the UAM business,” Ryu said. This is the second installment of a series of articles and interviews exploring the world of urban air mobility and the people behind the latest technological advancements. --Ed.By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)

[UP IN THE AIR] ‘Only few will succeed in air taxi commercialization’

Tags: