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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Seoul’s helicopter taxis cut commute to 20 minutes

A South Korean start-up, Moviation Inc., has introduced a groundbreaking helicopter taxi service, "Vonaer."

A South Korean start-up, Moviation Inc., has introduced a groundbreaking helicopter taxi service, “Vonaer,” aimed at significantly reducing travel time within Seoul. The service, currently in a testing phase, promises to cut the commute between Incheon International Airport and the bustling Gangnam neighborhood from over two hours to a mere 20 minutes. Operating once an hour, the Vonaer service offers a one-way flight for 440,000 won ($320).

Filling a Market Gap

Moviation CEO Shin Min emphasized the novelty and necessity of this service in South Korea. “Small air transportation businesses have not taken off in South Korea, and because of this, urban air services are unfamiliar to the public, and related infrastructure is lacking,” Shin stated. The company’s initiative aims to bridge this gap, providing a faster and safer alternative to traditional ground transportation.

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Safety and Efficiency Prioritized

The Vonaer service operates using medium-sized Sikorsky S-76C++ helicopters, known for their safety and reliability. Flights are available two weeks from the booking date and require a minimum of 8-10 passengers to confirm a trip. The helicopters cruise at 200 kilometers per hour, slowing down to 160 kph over urban areas. Shin assured potential passengers of the helicopters’ safety and the pilots’ extensive experience, although services will be suspended during severe weather conditions, which might affect up to 30% of the year.

Expanding Air Mobility Services

Beyond the airport shuttle, Moviation offers nationwide charter services, including a route from Seoul to Busan priced at 18 million won ($13,000) for a one-way trip. This expansion signifies the company’s ambition to lay the groundwork for urban air mobility (UAM) in South Korea. “It is necessary to lay the foundation for the upcoming era of UAM by building the relevant infrastructure and customer base through helicopter services,” Shin added.

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Moviation is not alone in this venture. Last year, South Korea’s leading telecom provider, SK Telecom, in collaboration with Californian start-up Joby Aviation, showcased an innovative air taxi. This vehicle, a hybrid between a helicopter and a drone with six electric motors for vertical take-offs and landings, is part of SK Telecom’s plan to alleviate urban congestion. SK Telecom’s UAM business team leader, Lee Seok-keon, highlighted the development of an AI-technology-based UAM traffic management system, with demonstration flights expected later this year.