South Korea is already testing its air taxi control system

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From 2025, flying vehicles will be able to carry passengers from Seoul’s airports to the city centre, and if all goes well, from 2035 you won’t even need to be rich to travel in them. An urban air mobility (UAM) control system was unveiled in South Korea on Thursday, which is expected to be operational in 2025 and will serve air taxis between major airports and downtown Seoul. The solution, which will reduce the current travel time by a third, is part of a roadmap to launch commercial urban air transport in four years’ time, with a target date of 2025.

The Department for Transport estimates that such services will offer a 20-minute air alternative to 60-minute car journeys for distances of 30-50 kilometres, although initially at a lower cost than premium taxi services. The fare from Incheon International Airport to central Seoul, for example, is set at 110,000 won, but as the market matures, it is expected to fall to a fraction of that, to around 20,000 won, after 2035.

According to the ministry’s communication on the subject, UAM is expected to become a common means of transport used by citizens in their daily lives, so it is essential to test such services in different environments. During the recent demonstration, a pilot flew a two-seater model (Volocopter 2X) manufactured by the German company Volocopter at Seoul Gimpo Airport to test and demonstrate its control and coordination.

In the foreseeable future, human pilots will be required to fly UAM aircraft with passengers, which authorities say is not only necessary for safety reasons but also to help the technology gain acceptance among the general public. The South Korean designers have also unveiled their own drone aircraft, with a full-scale prototype due to begin test flights next year and development work on a five-seat version.

Equally or even more important among the technologies on display at the event were the imaging devices for detecting and tracking flying taxis, and the patented lighting systems for the vertiports that help drones land and take off. These are air taxi landing strips that would be set up at high altitude so as not to interfere with surface traffic; the vertiports would initially operate as hubs, but could later be set up as small stations on individual apartment blocks.

Reuters reports that a statement from the South Korean transport ministry said that Thursday’s test flight was a success, as it was found that the air traffic control system at the airport, which handles domestic and international flights, can track and manage UAM aircraft. This, according to the assessment of the public body, shows that the air traffic operations already in place can be carried out in accordance with the UAM processes, thus removing another obstacle to the launch of the air taxi service.

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