The United States is arguably one of the best countries to start an urban air mobility business. You just need to look at how fast well-funded startups like Joby Aviation, Wisk Aero and Lillium are building and testing electric vertical take-off and landing or eVTOL aircraft.
However, South Korea, lacking the venture capital, entrepreneurial ecosystem and space heritage of the US, could be the first to lay the groundwork for turning urban air mobility (UAM) from an expensive science project into a viable service.
In 2020, the South Korean government set out its roadmap to commercialize air taxis by 2025, a goal that has since enabled mobility-focused private companies to form consortia dedicated to doing so. Now, alongside automakers, seemingly unlikely players — think telecommunications companies and ride-sharing platforms — are pushing the UAM industry forward.
The Unusual Suspects
It’s not hard to imagine automakers getting involved in this space. Indeed, some US companies, such as General Motors, have air mobility in their sights. After all, they have the brand awareness and the manufacturing prowess to get at least one vehicle off the production line.
In South Korea, Hyundai, the country’s largest automaker, has earmarked KRW 1.8 trillion ($1.4 billion) for flying taxis in South Korea by 2025. The company also formed a consortium in 2020 with South Korean telecom giant KT and a few other companies to commercialize UAMs by 2028 and build the country’s first vertiport at the Millennium Hilton Seoul.
Now you’re probably wondering how telecommunications companies fit into this equation. Predictably, it looks like they’re filling in the communication part of the puzzle.