Passenger drones will ply the skies in Korea in 2025, while autonomous urban air mobility (UAM) will be a reality by 2035, according to a report by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
In 2025, the drones will have a pilot, the report says. Five years later, they will be operated by remote control, though a safety manager may ride along to intervene in the case of emergencies.
The ministry is aiming for fully-autonomous passenger drones by 2035.
UAM corridors, air routes where the passenger drones will fly, will be mapped out, and the vehicles will fly at an altitude to 300 to 600 meters. Landing and take-off points, known as vertiports, will be established at major traffic hubs.
The ministry plans to hold test flights of passenger drones in November. A passenger drone will fly between Gimpo International Airport and downtown Seoul on Nov. 10, and another test flight will take place between Incheon International Airport and downtown Seoul on Nov. 15.
The government first flight-tested a passenger drone in November last year, flying a two-seater drone carrying sacks of rice lieu of real humans 3.6 kilometers for about seven minutes along the Han River.
With the commercialization of flying taxis drawing near, companies have been speeding up development of vehicles and necessary services.
Korea Aerospace Research Institute, Hyundai Motor, Hanwha Systems and Korea Aerospace Industries have been working together since 2019 to develop a passenger drone. In 2019, Hanwha Systems partnered with Santa Ana, California’s Overair to co-develop the Butterfly air taxi.
Globally, Santa Cruz, California’s Joby Aviation plans to offer air transport services in Los Angeles and Dallas and in Melbourne, Australia in 2024. Bruchsal, Germany’s Volocopter plans to start an air taxi service seating up to two passengers in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Airports for passenger drones are being developed. Hyundai Motor partnered with Britain’s Urban-Air Port and announced plans to open Air One, an airport specifically for flying UAM vehicles near Birmingham. The airport is slated to open early next year.
Despite plans to operate passenger drones in the next few years, experts say the infrastructure and guidelines for the flying transport systems are still in their earliest stages.
“It’s no use if an overall UAM ecosystem isn’t developed along with the vehicle itself,” said Shin Jae-won, head of Hyundai Motor Company’s UAM division.
Regulations are needed as well.
“Necessary infrastructure and guidelines, such as noise level restrictions, are currently insufficient,” said Chang Young-keun, a professor teaching aerospace engineering at Korea Aerospace University.
In response to concerns, Vice Minister for the Ministry of Transport Hwang Seong-kyu said on Tuesday that the ministry plans to promote the passage of a special law regarding UAM vehicles.
BY KANG KAP SAENG, MOON BYUNG-JOO, LEE TAE-HEE [[email protected]]