For Volocopter, lift-off is already a reality! An interview with Fabien Nestmann, Head of Global Public Affairs

Image: Volocopter 
Interview conducted by Stephanie Hagen, Head of Conferences and Digital Content at Autonomy 

In 2017, Volocopter became the first autonomous air taxi to carry out a successful test flight (inside a city; Dubai), how soon until we see Volocopter fully operating in cities and will it be entirely autonomous?

We expect to have the first point-to-point Volocopter connections up within the next 5 years. We are already in talks with cities around the world and we are actively looking for a few more options. Whether those point-to-point routes will be fully autonomous from day one, or start with a safety pilot, will depend on local factors. Most importantly this will be about what people in the cities feel comfortable with as well as the legal framework.

What is the ideal Volocopter commute?

Any route from A to B that is inefficient to get to by traditional transportation because of the topography or extreme traffic. On these routes the Volocopter can fly over traffic, rivers, hill etc. and get people to their destination directly with much less hassle. As a result, the Volocopter will be the fastest way of transportation. On these routes we can offer our customer the biggest value add:  significant time savings.

We are currently evaluating routes around the world to see where make most sense.

How will Volocopter incorporate itself into the existing infrastructure of cities?

Integrated connected mobility is the way of the future. Subsequently the first Volocopter routes will likely be connecting main transportation hubs such as from the airport to the city center or from one busy public transportation hub to a less well deserved area.

We recently presented our vision for integrating air taxis into city infrastructure. It consists of Volo-Hubs and Volo-Ports. The Volo-Hubs resemble cable cart stations with Volocopters landing and taking off every 30 seconds for example. Once landed the Volocopter is moved inside the Volo-Hub. Passengers alight the aircraft protected from wind and weather. Battery packs will be swapped automatically in a protected area by robots before moving on to the section, where passengers embark for take-off. Volo-Hubs are the key to substantially increase the capacity of any Volocopter system. Aside from protected deboarding and embarking, they offer sufficient space to park all Volocopters in operation and provide the infrastructure for charging and maintenance. Volo-Ports expand the Volo-Hub system and offer direct access to a company, shopping mall, hotel or train station for example. They do not require any charging or parking infrastructure and subsequently will be less complex to build. Any Heliports can be used as a Volo-Port with minimal modification.

Volocopter has been receiving a lot of press lately describing it as the “Uber of the skies”, how would you describe yourself?

We describe ourselves as an autonomous air taxi. I understand where the association comes from, as you will be able to order a Volocopter by app, just as it used to be revolutionary with Uber. However, we will not only provide the service, but also build the aircraft and cooperate with other partners to provide the infrastructure.

Volocopter is being presented as a solution which will encourage “flight for all.” How much would it cost to fly from the city center of Paris to the the Charles De Gaulle Airport (for reference, by Uber this costs €45 and is a 30 km, 45-minute journey). How will you ensure that flights remain affordable?

We expect a Volocopter to cost approximately 40% more than a regular taxi in a first phase, while providing a significant time advantage. We are expecting significant economies of scale once the integrated system is implemented in a city. While a Volocopter Hub is certainly not cheap, it is quite affordable when compared to the building and maintenance costs of roads, bridges and tunnels. In the long run, we see no reason why air taxis would not reach pricing levels of current taxis or go below once we get to pooling flights.

Within the last couple of years we have seen a number of startups and companies join the race to develop an air taxi, how do you differentiate yourself from the competition?  

We are pioneers in the space of eVTOLs and autonomous air taxis. When we completed our historic manned flight of an electrically powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft (the VC1 in 2011) most people thought our idea of autonomous air taxis was nothing short of crazy. Since 2016 we have a preliminary license for piloted flight in Germany. We have flown autonomously, manned and remotely piloted. As a result, we have an aircraft with several hundred flights in the bank. These years give us the edge in experience and testing to most other projects out there. We are very focused on the intra-city mission and want to build and offer the safest, most efficient option there is. We welcome the current activity around the topic and believe that every initiative, product and project will ultimately lead to a faster expansion of such services and benefit citizens around the world.