The future of air travel in Asia is, literally, looking up, going by the
buzz surrounding eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing)
aircraft at the recent Singapore Air Show.
is clearly getting to the eVTOL action, with Tony Fernandes, founder
and CEO of Capital A, the newly rebranded AirAsia Group, having signed a
non-binding memorandum of understanding with CEO Dómhnal Slattery of
aircraft lessor Avolon, for at least 100 VX4 eVTOL aircraft, also known
as taxi drones.
Slattery is also the chairman of the aircraft’s manufacturer Vertical. Avolon already counts AirAsia among its leasing clients.
Vertical’s eVTOL VX4 aircraft can carry up to four passengers and a
pilot. It has a maximum speed of 202 kph and a range of 160 kilometres
on a single charge. It also boasts a reduced carbon footprint and
produces low levels of sound pollution, between 45 and 60 decibels.
No figures concerning the agreement were disclosed but Avolon
announced that it had ordered 500 aircraft from the aircraft’s
manufacturer Vertical for a total of US$2 billion. Of those, 450 or 90%
of the total order have now been reserved by airlines around the world.
Though the drone story attracted the attention of industry observers,
the first taxis whizzing through the air are still a ways off. An
optimistic Fernandes says that he hopes to see the first piloted drones
hailed through AirAsia's super app by the end of 2024, but he admits
that the aircraft first have to be produced, then certified fit to fly
governments can authorise such flights however, they will also have to
decide on a low altitude air traffic control system. Fernandes stated
that Singapore is studying the options and Malaysia is preparing to make
a purchase of such a system.
He sees the service as a perfect fit with the flights and the
ride-sharing services the company already has on offer and will promote
the new product on its planes and through its app.
According to him, there is untapped demand. “The flying taxis are
between riding a car and a plane,” he states. “There are many places you
can’t get to easily by road.”
Fernandes acknowledges that there will be sceptics, but “I think it’s
going to be huge. AirAsia will eventually offer services from cars to
air taxis to flights. We can cover all angles in that space.” In a
separate statement, Capital A said the global market for eVTOL travel
could reach 1.5 to 2.9 trillion USD by 2040.
Revenue from eVTOL flights will not come only from passengers, but
also from cargo. “Think if we had drones during the distribution of
vaccines, it could have been done much faster,” says Fernandes.
“We’re thinking of drones for cargo and package delivery and drones
for people”, in particular in the high-growth last-kilometre market.
Delivery is also a key component of the group’s plans for the AirAsia