United States is perhaps one of the best countries to start an urban air mobility business. Just look at how quickly 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, which lacks the venture capital, entrepreneurial ecosystem and aerospace heritage of the United States, could be the first to lay the groundwork for moving urban air mobility (UAM) from an expensive science project to a viable service.
In 2020, the South Korean government set out its roadmap to commercialize air taxis by 2025, a goal that has since allowed private mobility-focused companies to form dedicated consortia for this purpose. Now, in addition to automakers, seemingly unlikely players — think telecommunications companies and ride-sharing platforms — are driving the UAM industry forward.
The unusual suspects
It’s not a stretch to imagine automakers getting involved in this space. Indeed, some American companies like General Motors have air mobility in their sights. After all, they have the brand recognition and manufacturing power to at least get a 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 in 2020 a consortium with South Korean telecommunications giant KT and a few other companies to commercialize UAM by 2028 and build the country’s first vertiport at the Millennium Hilton Seoul.
Now you’re probably wondering how telecom companies fit into this equation. As you might expect, it looks like they fill in the communication part of the puzzle.