German urban air mobility pioneer Volocopter has released new details of a vision for a future network of hubs and ports for air taxis that mainly relies on re-using existing infrastructure to reduce upfront capital costs and ease the path to airspace integration over gridlocked city streets.
Volocopter in 2016 first staged manned flights of its 18-rotor, two-seat VC200 air taxi prototype in Germany, followed by public demonstrations in Dubai in September 2017 and in Las Vegas this January.
Although the company’s electric-powered, autonomous aircraft concept is well known, its concept for building up infrastructure in cities to support the launch of point-to-point air taxi flights within a decade was less understood.
A 4min, 8s documentary posted on Volocopter’s YouTube channel on 17 April marks the company’s first attempt to detail how it plans to achieve a goal of flying 100,000 passengers per hour over cities by 2028 in brief hops up 14.6nm (27km) and carrying two passengers.
“Our ambitions do not end with developing the aircraft,” says Volocopter chief executive Florian Reuter. “We are here to develop the entire ecosystem making air taxi services a reality across the world. This includes the physical and digital infrastructure to manage unmanned systems.”
Set in New York City, Volocopter’s documentary video envisions operations concentrated in enclosed “Volo-hubs”, each supporting landings every 30s. As each aircraft arrives on an exterior landing pad, it is moved by a conveyor belt inside an adjacent enclosure, where passengers can alight. Meanwhile, a robotic system replaces the vehicle’s depleted battery with a fully-charged power system.
“We expect any air taxi transport system to begin with a point to point connection and over time grow into a system of dozens of Volo-Hubs in a city,” says Volocopter co-founder Alex Zosel.
The concept includes an additional network of smaller Volo-ports. These would use mainly existing heli-pads with minimal modifications and offer direct access to major destinations, such as shopping malls, large offices and train stations.
The system also depends on a new approach to air traffic management, according to Volocopter’s video, but it offered few details about how it would be developed.
But Volocopter’s production partner isn’t waiting. DG AeroTec announced on 4 April the launch of serial production of the Volocopter 2X, featuring an improved fuselage and rotor system. The first batch of components have passed static load tests, DG AeroTec says, and the second serial aircraft is now in production.