Osaka Becomes Target For UAM Services By 2025

JAL has the right to lease or purchase up to 100 VA-X4 eVTOL air taxis from lessor Avolon.
Credit: Vertical Aerospace

Major events such as the Olympic Games that focus the world’s attention on one country are emerging as key early showcases for urban air mobility (UAM).

Paris plans to have urban air taxis flying during the 2024 Summer Olympics, while Japan is targeting the 2025 World Expo in Osaka.

Japan Airlines (JAL) is the latest to announce plans to launch aerial ridesharing service at the Osaka Kansai Expo 2025, signing agreements that could lead to orders for up to 100 Vertical Aerospace VA-X4 and 100 Volocopter VoloCity and VoloDrone electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

The airline has formed a strategic partnership with aircraft lessor Avolon that includes the right to purchase or lease up to 50 VA-X4 piloted four-passenger air taxis, with the option for 50 more. The lessor’s Avolon-e affiliate already holds preorders and options for 500 VA-X4s.

JAL and Avolon will work together to identify local partners and customers, infrastructure requirements and a range of commercial models for the introduction of eVTOL ridesharing in Japan. “We look forward to collaborating closely with Avolon and Vertical on the road map to certification for the VA-X4 with the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau,” said Tomohiro Nishihata, JAL managing executive director. 

JAL invested in and partnered with Volocopter in 2020 to promote the development of UAM in Japan. The German eVTOL startup has now joined the Osaka Roundtable for implementation of advanced air mobility (AAM) and plans to conduct public test flights as early as 2023. JAL has reserved 100 VoloCity two-seat eVTOLs and VoloDrone unmanned cargo aircraft.

Volocopter said it is forging early links with local partners and regulators to strengthen its market position, and has begun discussions with local government offices on how its vehicles can support disaster relief and help regenerate industrial and suburban areas by establishing air bridges.

UK vertiport developer Skyports plans to have an air taxi facility operational in the Kansai region in time for Expo 2025. The company is one of five selected to provide eVTOL expertise to the Osaka Super City project to develop the city as a technology hub powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

Japanese eVTOL startup SkyDrive in September announced plans to operate an urban air taxi service during Expo 2025 and signed a partnership agreement with the Osaka prefectural and city governments. SkyDrive had originally targeted the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for a demonstration of its air taxi, but instead had to settle for the first public flight of its manned eVTOL prototype.

Looking further ahead, Australian startup Skyportz is planning to have a network of AAM  hubs in place in Brisbane for the 2032 Olympics. The first of the “mini airports” is planned to be operational at the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Moreton Bay, Brisbane, in 2023.

“We are waiting on federal standards and new state regulations to be developed before we can proceed to build a network,” Skyportz CEO Clem Newton-Brown said. “For this reason, we are focusing initially on existing aviation infrastructure and places where it is possible to get a permit for a helipad that can transition into a future Skyportz [hub].”

The hubs will be available to all air taxi operators, but Skyportz has partnered initially with U.S. startup Electra, which is developing a piloted seven-passenger electric short-takeoff-and-landing aircraft that can fly up to 500 mi. at 200 mph with 100-ft. takeoff and landing distances.

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.