The plan is to connect at least eight destinations to the Osaka World Expo site with hourly flights. Japan’s large-scale flying taxi project is nearing the finish line. The timetable for the new form of transport is almost ready. During the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, the revolutionary transport service will link the exhibition area with eight destinations on a series of predetermined routes. The shuttles, which will act as a kind of directional taxi, will depart every hour from their terminals.
There is a rational explanation for the Japanese experiment: as well as the flying taxis planned by the organisers to be the main attraction of the Expo, the World Expo site will be an artificial island near Osaka, Jumeshima, connected to the city by a two-lane bridge. However, flying vehicles will make access faster and more convenient. Flights will connect mainly airports to the island, but there will also be routes specifically focused on tourist attractions.
There is no information yet on the price of the flights: fares will be negotiated between operators and the government’s expo departments once the routes have been finalised. (So far, only one developer has announced prices: the German Volocopter has advertised its first 1,000 tickets for a 15-minute flight for €300 in 2020.)
And who will be the operators? For the time being, it is anyone’s guess, but the operators that the Japanese government intends to involve in the project will be selected this year, in parallel with the regulatory process. It is not just the suppliers of the flying cars; the companies that will build and operate the landing and take-off sites will also be selected this year.
ANA Holdings, which has teamed up with Joby Aviation, a US start-up that also works with NASA, is a Japanese project favourite – a partnership that also indirectly involves Toyota as an investor in Joby Aviation.
Also on the starting line is Japan Airlines, which is partnering with Volocopter to launch its own service (the latter also has a major project in Seoul testing an urban air mobility or UAM control system, also due to go live in 2025). But there’s also Tokyo-based SkyDrive.
It is no small risk to embark on such a large project when the regulatory framework is still very sketchy. It is likely that new standards will have to be developed for airport construction, and that air traffic management will become much more complex than it is now, with the need to regulate an airspace that will be shared with planes and helicopters not only by drones but soon also by flying cars, Nikkei points out.
The Japanese government aims to have a regulatory framework in place by 2023, or 2024 at the latest.