Korea aims to commercialize UAM by 2025

2024. 3. 4. 10:09
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[Photo by Yonhap]
South Korea plans to operate an urban air mobility (UAM) service for Seoul and its surrounding areas by 2025, according to the country’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) on Sunday.

UAMs, which is still a novel concept, refers to the electric-powered vertical take-off and landing of small aircraft. They represent a new mode of transportation for logistics and people in the urban sky, commonly known as ‘flying taxis.’

While similar to helicopters in size, UAMs differentiate themselves by producing less noise and emitting no exhaust gases, optimizing urban environments. They are equipped with multiple power units that allow it to perform emergency landings and maintain balance even if one or two engines fail.

For electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to transport passengers within or in between cities or major public venues up to 50 kilometers apart in less than 20 minutes, the Korean land ministry conducted a maneuvering flight for the Korean-developed UAM vehicle OPPAV on February 28th, 2024, in an open-air countryside field in Goheung, South Jeolla Province.

During the flight, the OPPAV, which was developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, cut through the air with a height of 6.2 meters and a weight of 650 kilograms, covering 12 kilometers at a speed of 170 kilometers per hour for about 10 minutes before returning to the takeoff location for landing.

When OPPAV reached a speed of 160 kilometers per hour at an altitude of 130 meters, the noise measured was 61.5 weighted decibels (dBA), lower than the typical urban noise level of 65 dBA. It received positive evaluations for being able to fly in urban areas without significant noise pollution, but the noise during landing was somewhat noticeable, suggesting the need for noise reduction measures.

The UAM market, still in its early stages, has significant growth potential.

[Graphics by Song Ji-yoon]
According to a study by the land ministry, the global UAM market is expected to grow rapidly from $10.9 billion in 2025 to $250.6 billion in 2035 and $609 billion in 2040.

In this regard, the land ministry and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute are actively supporting Korean companies in entering the UAM market under the ‘UAM Grand Challenge’ banner, with a total of 46 companies participating in seven consortiums.

These companies include Hyundai Motor Co., Incheon International Airport Corp., KT Corp., Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co., SK telecom Co., Hanwha Systems Co., Korea Airports Corp., Kakao Mobility Co., LG Uplus Corp., GS Engineering & Construction Co., Lotte Data Communication Co., and Lotte Engineering & Construction Co., who will participate in the first phase of the Grand Challenge for integrated operations.

The UAM market includes not only aircraft but infrastructure such as traffic management systems and boarding points as well.

“In the UAM value chain, the aircraft accounts for only 15 percent of the market,” a land ministry official said, emphasizing that companies are looking for more significant opportunities in traffic management systems and infrastructure rather than simple aircraft development.

Other countries are also competitively racing to commercialize UAMs between the second half of 2024 and 2025 by intensifying efforts in aircraft and operational system development.

China, a drone powerhouse, plans to commercialize UAMs in its Guangdong region by the end of 2024 while France, a traditional leader in the aviation industry, will showcase UAM flights at the Paris 2024 Olympics. The United States, which is far ahead in UAM airframe development, aims to launch commercial services in New York in 2025.

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