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HomeTech & GamesAirAsia and Skyports intend to build air taxi vertiports in KL

AirAsia and Skyports intend to build air taxi vertiports in KL

The future of air travel may not be as far away as you think. Companies are pushing to bring air taxis to market, and AirAsia is no exception, announcing a partnership with Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) infrastructure developer Skyports explore the development of air taxi infrastructure in Malaysia.

The budget airline’s AAM division signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) with Skyports, said to be the next step in the establishment of a fully operational vertiport network here. This follows several of the company’s moves in 2022 alone, most recently extending drone-related training to the high-technology related sectors. It has also announced future plans to lease 100 Vertical Aerospace VX4 electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft from Avolon and launched its drone training programme.

AirAsia says the partnership will leverage the strengths of both parties, including its own aviation expertise and experience as well as its on-ground market knowledge and networks. Skyports, on the other hand, is said to have a global portfolio of designing and building eVTOL infrastructure and is also advancing regulatory development worldwide, the latter through close collaboration with local regulatory bodies and standards-setting organisations.

The one-year partnership will focus on joint feasibility studies for the integration of air taxi vertiport infrastructure and the identification of potential vertiport sites, with initial assessments focused on Kuala Lumpur. It’s also hoped that collaboration will develop operational requirements and frameworks to ultimately implement a vertiport network in Malaysia.

“Following the announcement of our venture into the urban air taxi service earlier this year, we have been working around the clock to explore its feasibility in Malaysia,” said AirAsia chief safety officer and AAM boss Captain Ling Liong Tien. “This partnership with Skyports will accelerate the review of the infrastructure including vertical take-off and landing platforms in the country as well as strengthen our potential as a zero-emissions ultra-short-haul air travel provider in Southeast Asia.”

Skyports’ Asia Pacific head Yun-Yuan Tay added: “This partnership highlights the steady progress of AAM development and interest in Malaysia and the wider APAC region. With innovative and forward-looking partners like AirAsia, we will be able to take concrete steps towards the realisation of a safe, efficient and fully-integrated air taxi network which brings real benefits to the people and communities it serves.”

Before you get excited at the prospect of flying downtown for lunch, you have to understand that the first commercial air taxi flights are likely still years away from reality. As with any form of air transportation, eVTOLs need certification from local regulators, which are typically slow to respond to new technologies.

The US’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for instance, has yet to approve these aircraft for service, although it has said it will collaborate with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to streamline certification. Those are two of the world’s biggest authorities in commercial air travel, so you can imagine how much longer it will take a smaller organisation like our own Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM).

Then there’s the VX4 itself, which isn’t even a reality as yet, although Vertical Aerospace is building a working demonstrator as we speak. The company is only expecting to commence operations of the eVTOL in 2025 – it’s targeting concurrent UK and European certification in 2024 – so that’s at least three years before we’ll be able to see AirAsia air taxis roaming our airspace.

Still, efforts are underway to develop the air taxi industry in the region – Skyports is already involved in a collaboration with Volocopter to launch a service in Singapore by early- to mid-2024, having built the world’s first vertiport in Marina Bay and commenced their first test flight in 2019. A scenic 12km route around the bay was recently proposed for the first commercial flights.

Volocopter also entered into a partnership with Grab in 2020 to evaluate the viability of an air taxi service in Southeast Asia. Closer to home, the Geely-owned eVTOL maker and Skyports signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Malaysia Airports last July to conduct a feasibility study for vertiport development. It’s unclear whether the latest deal with AirAsia has affected this.

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