The first commercial electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi flights are unlikely to be operated by Joby Aviation, Archer Aviation or Boeing’s Wisk Aero. In fact, they most likely come from a company that doesn’t have a presence in the US market at all – at least not yet.

Volocopter, the German manufacturer that ranks atop SMG Consulting’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Reality Index, announced Thursday a partnership with Houston-based Bristow Group that will bring the company’s VoloCity eVTOL to the US and UK Firm order for two VoloCity with the option to purchase a further 78, for a total of 80 aircraft.

The partnership will combine Bristow’s vertical flight expertise, which primarily operates helicopter services, with Volocopter’s eVTOL aircraft, as the partners develop an Urban Air Mobility (UAM) ecosystem in the US. “Immediate collaboration” between the two companies will include regulatory discussions. Research infrastructure needs and build local partnerships.

The joint development agreement also calls for the two to explore commercial, operational and eVTOL aircraft maintenance services. This includes customizing Volocopter’s proprietary digital platform VoloIQ, which optimizes the allocation of batteries and other ground infrastructure, provides fleet service and management, automates routing and digital flight operations, and then even connects users to taxis, scooters and other ground transportation to land them.

Volocopter expects to receive European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) type certification for VoloCity in 2024. A concurrent certification path with the FAA could allow it to begin operations in the U.S. shortly thereafter. Prior to Thursday’s update, the company had not announced services in the U.S. market.

“With this collaboration, Volocopter has exceeded the 500 pre-order mark, including almost 30 firm orders from renowned partners,” said Christian Bauer, CFO and CCO of Volocopter. “I am excited about the enormous potential of the US and UK markets and look forward to working with Bristow’s experienced team as we prepare for operations.”

Bristow made deposits earlier this week for the early delivery of five cargo drones from Elroy Air Chaparral. The commitments complement the company’s orders for up to 55 Beta Technologies Alia-250s, up to 50 Vertical Aerospace VA-X4s, 20 to 50 Overair Butterfly eVTOLs, 50 Lilium Jets and 100 eVTOL aircraft from Embraer subsidiary Eve Air Mobility.

Bristow primarily operates helicopter flights around the world, including Australia, Africa, Latin America, the United States and the Caribbean. However, the company makes it clear that it is also eyeing other vertical lift aircraft.

“The launch of this collaboration with Volocopter represents an important milestone in Bristow’s efforts to usher in a new era of vertical transportation solutions,” said Dave Stepanek, executive vice president and chief transformation officer at Bristow. “Volocopter has taken a pragmatic approach to certification with a simple and elegant initial aircraft design and is leading the way in its efforts to bring its aircraft to market.”

Meanwhile, Volocopter is not yet commercially active. However, through an agreement with international airport operator Groupe ADP, the French Civil Aviation Authority and the Paris Region, VoloCity is scheduled to fly over Paris at the 2024 Olympics. The initiative is similar to the FAA’s Innovate28 plan for air taxi demonstrations at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. But it is scheduled to take place a full Olympic cycle ahead of the U.S. effort.

The company first introduced its VoloCity design in 2019. Its two seats only accommodate a pilot and a passenger, but 18 rotors powered by nine lithium-ion battery packs provide a payload of 440 pounds and a range of 22 nm (19 nm). and a cruising speed of 68 miles per hour (59 knots). Volocopter claims the design is four times quieter than a small helicopter.

VoloCity is certified in the EASA Special Condition – VTOL (SC-VTOL) category. The company received Design Organization (DOA) approval in 2019, giving it permission to begin developing its design. A Production Organization Approval (POA) followed in 2021, giving the company the green light to begin producing its type-compliant aircraft.

It is now aiming for the coveted pattern certification, which no eVTOL manufacturer has yet achieved. That would be a big step towards commercial operation. If the company does not receive type approval by 2024, it would need special permission from the regional authorities for flights in Paris.

In January, Volocopter formed a new company and applied for an air operator’s certificate to fly commercial services with VoloCity. Normally a company would first have to obtain a model certification. However, the company has reached an agreement with regulators that allows it to pursue both in parallel. In a sense, it serves as a test case for authorities when developing AAM regulations.

The company also recently completed its production facility in Bruchsal, Germany, and said it has received regulatory approval to produce 50 VoloCity aircraft per year there. In addition to Paris, Volocopter also plans to fly in Singapore and Rome in 2024, as well as in the planned city of Neom in Saudi Arabia, as soon as construction allows. The first eVTOL test flights were just completed in the country in June.

A little further afield, the company is also developing the VoloRegion model with greater reach. It is expected to connect cities and suburbs with UAM routes and will first fly in 2022. The heavy-duty cargo drone VoloDrone is also in development.

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