South Korean officials have demonstrated a local air transportation service that could be launched in Seoul as early as 2025.
The recent demonstration involved the country’s urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles. The vehicles are designed to transport people between major airports and downtown Seoul. Officials say the taxi service is expected to cut travel time between the two places by about two-thirds.
Last year, South Korea announced plans to launch urban air travel services by 2025. The transport ministry estimates such services would reduce travel time for distances between 30 and 50 kilometers from one hour by car to 20 minutes by air.
Transport Minister Noh Hyeong-ouk attended the UAM air traffic demonstration. He said such vehicles are expected “to become one of the common means of transportation that citizens use in daily life.” Therefore, it is “imperative” that UAM services are tested in different environments,” Noh added.
During the demonstration, a pilot flew a two-seat air taxi model by Germany’s Volocopter at Seoul’s Gimpo Airport. The test aimed to demonstrate the vehicle’s control and coordination.
The Volocopter vehicle is powered by rotors that permit it to take off and land like a helicopter does. The model demonstrated can be piloted or operate without a pilot.
However, a transport ministry official said that when passengers are onboard UAMs, a pilot must also be onboard to control the vehicle. This is a safety measure for the taxi service and will also help the vehicles gain public acceptance, the official added.
South Korean designers also showed off a model of another UAM vehicle. That one will not be ready for flight tests until next year. The team producing that vehicle plans to develop a five-seat version, the transport ministry said.
Other technology demonstrated at the event included imaging equipment to track the aircraft, as well as lighting systems for specially designed “vertiports” where air taxis will land and take off.
A trip from Incheon International Airport to central Seoul is expected to cost about $93 when the service starts in 2025. That is much higher than a trip currently with the most costly taxi service. But transport ministry officials said the cost is expected to drop to about $17 per trip by 2035, if the market continues to experience strong growth.
In a statement, the ministry said the test flight demonstrated the abilities of air traffic control systems. The ministry said the systems that currently manage all airport flights in the country can also manage UAM air traffic.
This shows that the existing air traffic operations can be carried out “in harmony with UAM operations,” the statement said.