Japan-based SkyDrive recently announced that it had reached an agreement with the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) that it could start the type certification process for its two-seat flying car. Using the Bureau’s Airworthiness Inspection Manual (AIM), the SkyDrive SD-05 is almost ready to take to the skies.
“The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau accepted our application for type certification in October 2021. Since then, we have held a series of discussions with the authority regarding ways to develop and design safe aircraft and the means for testing them. We’ve now come to an agreement with the JCAB to adopt AIM Part II as the basis for type certification. We are very pleased that we have moved a step closer to obtaining a type certificate. From here, we will continue to deepen our partnership with JCAB and discuss plans toward obtaining a type certificate,” says Chief Technology Officer, Nobuo Kishi.
Auto Futures spoke to the Head of the CEO’s Office at SkyDrive, Sumie Miyauchi, to find out more about the company and some very interesting developments, including a recent collaboration with Suzuki.
Getting off the Ground
“SkyDrive was established in July 2018 with the aim to lead a once-in-a-century mobility revolution,” she says, throwing some light on what the company is set out to achieve. Existing mobility such as automobiles, trains and, aeroplanes cannot be used where there are no roads, tracks or runways. Time is wasted in daily transportation due to waiting at traffic lights, traffic jams, and delays.
“Our founder, Tomohiro Fukuzawa, believed that if there was air mobility that could be used on a daily basis, people would be able to move more freely and faster, with fewer restrictions and time wasted by existing infrastructure,” explains Miyauchi.
Back in 2020, SkyDrive lifted the curtains off its prototype, SD-03, for the world to see.
The SD-03 was a single-seat, all-electric, vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) multi-copter type aircraft. Developed in Japan, this model was a proof of concept for the company, and the prototype aircraft completed a piloted hovering flight test in 2020 in Toyota City.
The SD-03 used contra-rotating rotors to generate enough lift to carry a person whilst also keeping the vehicle compact. Each rotor works with an independent motor and electric system to ensure safe operation in case of catastrophic malfunction. In the event that one motor stops working, or one of the propellers breaks, the vehicle is still able to fly stably and land in a safe location.
“We are trying to make our flying vehicle as compact and light as possible so that it can take off and land virtually anywhere in the future,” says Miyauchi, speaking about how SkyDrive is trying to differentiate itself from other eVTOL players in the space.
“We have conducted flight tests over 1,000 times to date and completed a piloted hovering flight test in 2020 in Toyota City. SkyDrive cooperates closely with the Japanese Government and the Japanese national aerospace agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in the process of research and development to build a flying car that is as safe as any existing aircraft.”
SkyDrive is planning to launch commercially as early as 2025 with the SD-05.
Ready for Lift-Off
The most significant difference between the SD-03 and the newer version is that the SD-05 will have the same safety assurance as existing aircraft and get type certification. While the specifications for this aircraft haven’t been released yet, the initial plan is to open sales to operators and other companies rather than individual consumers.
But that’s not all. Not too long ago, SkyDrive showcased its automated cargo drone – the SkyLift.
As Miyauchi explains, the potential use cases for the SkyLift include transporting materials for use in pylon maintenance, as well as to elevated expressway construction sites.
“We are also considering eVTOL use scenarios such as transporting a doctor to the scene of an emergency, but we are not currently developing an aircraft specifically for this purpose,” she adds.
Regulations might be a pain point for eVTOL companies across the globe, but not for SkyDrive, as the government in Japan seems to be very cooperative.
“In Japan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) have jointly established the Public-Private Conference for Future Air Mobility in 2018, bringing together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to realise flying vehicles,” Miyauchi says.
“A roadmap formulated by METI and MLIT and anticipates the start of business in the mid-2020s and full-scale deployment. The project is expected to lead to taxi services in urban areas, new means of transportation for remote islands and mountainous areas, and emergency transport in times of disaster.”
SkyDrive also recently announced a partnership with Japanese automotive giant, Suzuki.
When asked about what each company was bringing to the table, Miyauchi explains that this is still under consideration.
“At SkyDrive, we hope to see synergy effects between Suzuki’s expertise in the development and manufacture of compact cars as SkyDrive is developing and manufacturing compact aircraft.
“In terms of overseas market development, we expect to create a market for flying cars in India, where traffic congestion and transportation infrastructure issues are significant. Suzuki holds a top share in India and we believe that collaboration with Suzuki can accelerate building the market.”
For now, SkyDrive’s focus is three-fold – to improve the efficiency and performance of its flying vehicle, obtain the necessary type certification and increase social acceptance of flying vehicles overall. But the latter two objectives aren’t possible unless the former is achieved. Speaking of the company’s future plans Miyauchi says:
“We will continue to steadily develop our flying vehicle and proceed with certification activities until we obtain type certification in 2025. After its unveiling at the 2025 World Expo, Osaka, Kansai, we will increase our service locations in Japan and we are also considering expanding overseas.”
Top image credit: SkyDrive