AviationCapital A intends to acquire 100 flying taxis and begin flights as soon as end-2024, but hurdles remain.

The future of transport hovers on AirAsia's horizon

AirAsia's super app may potentially allow people to hail air taxis soon.
AirAsia's super app may potentially allow people to hail air taxis soon. Photo Credit: Joby Aviation

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.

AirAsia 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 by authorities.

Before 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 Super App.

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