Japan’s SkyDrive Plans Commercial Launch in 2023

Tokyo-based aerospace company SkyDrive Inc. plans to release their domestic flying taxi service in 2023, according to a Japan Times report. According to CEO Tomohiro Fukazawa, by 2050, anyone would be able to fly to any destination within Tokyo’s 23 wards in 10 minutes or less. To bring such a service to reality, the Japanese government is aiding the aerospace company, pushing for the decongestion of traffic in urban areas, another option for disaster relief, and to provide a new mode of transportation for mountainous areas and remote islands.

SkyDrive originated from the members of Cartivator, a voluntary organization formed by former automobile and aviation engineers. Founded in July 2018, SkyDrive has since been working towards bringing aerial mobility to reality, conducting most of their tests at their facility in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture.

Their concept design, the SD-XX, is one of the smaller eVTOLs currently in development at 1.5 meters tall and 4 meters by 3.5 meters across. The SD-XX would be able to fly at 100 kph, with an envisioned range of under 100 kilometers. According to Fukuzawa, SkyDrive would be able to produce eVTOLs that can run on normal roads by the late 2020s, adding extra versatility to the SD-XX which can already currently perform takeoff and landing from any flat surface. The company, which launched a cargo drone this spring and flew their first flying car test flights this summer, plans to launch their air mobility product commercially by 2023. It’s an ambitious timeline, but a group of companies and government stakeholders are joining together to make it happen. SkyDrive has joined the Roundtable on Practical Use of Flying Cars Aiming to Realize “Moving Revolution Society” in Skies over Osaka. The Roundtable held their first meeting November 17.

“We at SkyDrive see the Osaka-Kansai Japan World Expo 2025 as a milestone on the road tow ard the full-scale realization of an air mobility society and as such will aim to take a leading r ole in the upcoming roundtable conferences, seeking to drive forward the discussion and org anize practical demonstrations of how flying cars work and can transform urban mobility,” says a SkyDrive press release.

SkyDrive’s current plans are to release their flying car service by 2023 in either Osaka or Tokyo, and release a fully autonomous commercial model for the general public by 2028. Initial flights would take place over the sea, to mitigate any initial risk of flying over highly urban areas. Fukuzawa expects to have 1000 people riding by the second year of service, in 2024. While mostly autonomous, initial flights would have a pilot as well in case of emergency. Final costs are not yet determined, but would be “significantly less than a helicopter flight”. While the service would initially be domestic, SkyDrive intends to eventually expand overseas, especially into Southeast Asia.

Two of the biggest hurdles will be certification for commercial flights and ensuring the same safety and reliability as that of existing aircraft, according to Fukuzawa, but the expectation is that they will achieve commercial certification in 2 years.

“Just Get On With It”

The Japanese government is embracing the idea of urban air mobility and drone technology. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that drones were a significant part of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and that Japan would not be left behind. Since then, Japan has made major strides to support the development of the commercial drone industry: flying cars are a natural corollary.

The Japanese government hopes to see flying cars in the skies above the country’s major cities in only three years.

The vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) industry, with a particular focus on renewable, electric power systems, is of interest to many vendors in the transport space.

Japan-based SkyDrive has developed a two-seater eVTOL vehicle currently at the testing stage, but is far from the only company exploring means to send our cars into the skies. Uber, Boeing, Airbus, AeroMobil, and other vendors are all exploring the VTOL space — hoping to create a commercially-viable and safe craft first to jump ahead of competitors.

A number of prototypes proposed relate to the idea of flying ‘taxis’ that can be manned by professional pilots and are able to transport relatively large numbers of people. However, in SkyDrive’s case, the company has developed a vehicle small enough to fit into two average parking spaces.

Osaka or Tokyo are being considered as the first areas in which an air taxi service will launch with one passenger and one pilot. SkyDrive intends to charge far less for a ride than a traditional helicopter trip.

When it comes to the commercial launch of private air vehicles, the company expects to sell at least 100 by 2028.