After Volocopter revealed its new long-range eVTOL aircraft, VoloConnect at EBACE Connect last week, company CEO Florian Reuter took part in a short Q&A after the press conference, where he provided more insight into the aircraft and its future role.
Q: Where does the development of the VoloConnect stand and when are we going to see a first prototype?
Florian Reuter: “We’ve been working on this for years now and you can already see a first patent published that we filed some time ago. We have been flying multiple scale models of the VoloConnect so far. What you saw on the video was a flight of the scale model where we were showing vertical flight transition phase as well as forward flight already, so that’s what is ongoing and we’re working towards flying full-scale prototypes. Our team is headquartered in Munich and we expect to be coming back to you with news and full-scale footage soon.”
Q: What is the expected timing for the certification of the VoloConnect?
FR: “Based on all of the experience we have assembled in our cooperation with EASA over the past few years in the certification programme for the VoloCity, the VoloConnect will be certified to the same safety standard which is the SC-VTOL here in Europe, which will then be accepted by other authorities around the globe. We already have many of these agreements in place.
“Based on these experiences, we expect to be ready with the VoloConnect and finalise the certification programme around 2026, with entry into service for 2026.”
Q: Is Volocopter going to be an operator and is it going to sell the VoloConnect to other operators?
FR: “We have a very clear, long term strategy at Volocopter, in which we want to be operating various vehicles and serving the urban domain. Already several years ago, we have clearly seen the trade offs between multi rotor designs and different cruise and tilt designs. We have deliberately chosen to start off with a multirotor, the VoloCity design, because this is where the disruption will start. And this is where the certification threshold will be overcome first.
“We will start serving the single and double passenger market, the inner city market on the short range. There of course are other market segments that are very attractive to us, but in line with this long term strategy, we will also operate the VoloConnect together with our partners in different formats around the world.
“In some areas, we will be operating standalone with our own operating entities and in others we will be partnering up with local companies, like for example in China where we have a joint venture with Geely already in place for the operation in the largest metropolitan areas. So yes, we will be operating the VoloConnect together with our partners and ourselves as well.”
Q: What about the battery development for all three of Volocopter’s programmes, but especially the VoloConnect?
FR: “We have a clear philosophy at Volocopter and want to be extremely realistic when it comes to the things we do. If you’re going to a certification programme with the regulator, you need to show them the technology that you mean to apply that’s why you have to do a technology freeze at some point.
“The performance we have communicated both on the VoloCity as well as on the VoloConnect is based on today’s battery technology of which we know we can certify today. So yes, the performance that you see is on today’s battery technology.
“Of course, we expect to see further advancements in battery technology and performance, which will ultimately result in higher performance of our vehicles in the coming years. And once we have those available and have them developed and verified conforming according to the safety standards, we will then incorporate the latest battery technology into our vehicles in a couple of years, thereby improving the performance.
“It’s not like in previous times where you have certified a certain engine once and then you continue in your running that engine for decades. We expect to see continued improvement in the propulsion technology going forward and have already discussed with EASA and other regulators of what this process of recertification to newest standards and newer technology will look like.
“So that is what we expect going forward. I think in terms of the entry into service for the VoloConnect, you might see more aggressive timelines for similar concepts. Based on our experience and on the realistic plan we have for the development and the certification of this aircraft, we found 2026 to be a realistic timeline and feel pretty confident we will be one of the earlier vehicles of that design on the market as well.”
Q: Is Volocopter planning to build its own vertiports, or use heliports instead?
FR: “So we’re looking at this in stages. Initially, in order to be able to offer our services in a given city. We’re happy to use existing helicopter infrastructure. We are fully compatible with existing airports and we could retrofit them with a charging station that we need for our batteries. “
“Going forward, we want to make sure we can offer the same fantastic customer experience no matter where the customer uses our services around the world, meaning we will work towards having our infrastructure standards applied in as many cities and in as many VoloPorts as possible.
“We have designed the technical and design specifications for these VoloPort infrastructures and we are working with partners to implement them in cities around the world. We are not going to invest into the infrastructure ourselves, only in rare exceptional cases. The general rule for landing infrastructure is we do not invest ourselves, we partner.”
Q: Is the VoloConnect programme fully funded already, or is it going to be connected with extra funds Volocopter continues to raise?
FR: “As you have seen in the last Volocopter financing round we raised more than $240 million. We see a huge interest from the investor community, including the public investment community, and have witnessed several companies in the eVTOL space already announcing they’re going public. We’re absolutely confident there is enough awareness and validation of the growing demand for these types of services and technologies.
“I believe there is no other company as well positioned to benefit from these market developments than Volocopter. We’re extremely confident that we will be able to raise the necessary funding to complete and implement our complete strategy. It is an ambitious strategy; it aims to really continue leading this market going forward. So yes, we will continue to raise funds and are in very interesting conversations with numerous investors forward, pursuing different routes.”
Q: Will the VoloConnect be louder than the VoloCity?
FR: “Good question. As we’ve always said, there are pros and cons for the various configuration decisions that you take and at Volocopter we have always been very aware of those. So, we have decided for the multirotor design, the VoloCity, for the intra-urban mission because we believe it’s most important to have an extremely low noise profile there, particularly for a take-off and landing of the vehicle because that is when you’re closest to adjacent buildings, neighbourhoods, communities and so on.
“And you have to be very efficient in the vertical flight phases. Especially on short hops, you have to be efficient in that flight phase because it accounts for much of the flight mission. On the longer flight mission, what’s more critical there is that you can reach a longer range, potentially offer also a higher payload, but you do take into account compromises on the noise profile particularly at takeoff and landing, and also on the footprint and availability of landing sites that you can fly into.
“There is no one size fits all approach; you see various different purpose-built vehicles that are serving different needs and market segments. We believe the urban mobility sector will advance in a very similar way.
“Coming back to the question, the VoloCity is quieter at takeoff and landing and at overflight, the VoloConnect is quieter, due to the higher lift ratio that it gets from its wings. However, as we are flying overhead, even the VoloCity at 300ft above you, you will not notice the vehicle anymore.
“Just to give you an example when we were flying publicly in Singapore, there were some tourists that didn’t know something was going on above their heads and they didn’t even notice the vehicle flying.
“That’s how quiet it is. So, it’s not about absolute noise levels, it’s about the subjective perception of individuals, and we’re absolutely confident the VoloCity meets those highest requirements for the intra-city mission, and the VoloConnect is quiet enough for many of those sites and for many of those longer range missions.”
Q: Regarding the mode of flight the VoloConnect is going to take, is Volocopter planning to operate the aircraft fully autonomously from the start of 2026?
FR: “That’s a great question. Both the VoloCity and VoloConnect are driven by our proprietary flight control technology which is a great synergy between the two programmes, where we have to meet the highest safety requirements from EASA. They’re both fly by light, as we say fly-by-wire but in our case, it’s polymer optic fibres so transmitting the right signals there.
“These vehicles are capable of flying free automated from the start and they are ready to turn fully autonomous as soon as the regulations allow us to do that. It is very difficult to predict precisely, so we’re pursuing a dual path here in the development of the VoloConnect.
Depending on where the regulation is then, we will decide whether there is a need to offer a piloted version at the beginning, or whether we can go fully autonomous later on. But that is a deviation we can take pretty late on into our development programme, just as we’re switching between remotely controlled or automated mode and piloted mode in our 2X Generation aircraft today. And just as we can do it with our VoloCity.
“So that is yet to be determined, depending on the pace at which the regulation moves towards full autonomy in the different areas around the world. We’re in a great exchange with the regulators and working with many many different working groups to advance the ability to fly fully autonomously as soon as we can.”
Q: Can you say anything about the flight tests with the scale models. How does the transition from vertical take-off to landing to cruise flight work with this particular aircraft?
FR: “This is a lift and cruise configuration, so we have six electrical rotors that are lifting the vehicle up and then we have two electrical propulsion units that are propelling the vehicle forward. As we don’t have any tilting elements here, we don’t have that highly critical flight phase of this tilting mechanism.
“We have the redundancy of the lifting elements, always in full place and therefore it’s much less complex and easier to certify this configuration than a tilting one. And as I said in some scale models we have already applied our flight controls to fully control these manoeuvres; we have shown them successfully and we can’t wait to also show them publicly with our full-scale prototype as soon as we’re ready.”
Q: Will the VoloConnect use the same type of technology, like electric motors and batteries in the VoloCity. Is it going to be the same power performance with a different architecture, or is Volocopter switching to a more advanced technology all over?
FR: “It really depends on what exactly we are considering. And yes, there are huge synergies between the two programmes, both in the technology side as well as on the certification and the operations side. Why am I saying this? Because we have to establish the certification requirements with EASA first, in order to then build our certification programme for the VoloCity and you learn quite a lot in this process. This knowledge we can directly apply to our VoloConnect activities.
“Secondly, we have also gained design organisation approval from EASA, making us the world’s first and only eVTOL company that has this certificate of DOA in place, which is a prerequisite to then ultimately continue to receive the type certificate. This is a certificate that applies to the whole organisation and the VoloConnect activities will be brought under that umbrella as we proceed.
“So the synergies are on the certification and operation fronts. Both of these vehicles are fully integrated into VoloIQ, which is our software platform servicing the operations, maintenance and customer interaction of all of our vehicles. That of course will be directly integrated from the start.
“On the technology side, it’s a more differentiated picture. Each configuration has its different requirements and there’s more of a straightforward adaption of our flight controls where you need to set the parameters and adjust slightly to the different vehicle configuration.
“For example, on the rotors we have a different power requirement on the VoloConnect than we have on the VoloCity. While the overall capacity requirements and power requirements of the VoloConnect battery are somewhat different So there are a lot of learnings we can apply from one vehicle to the other. In many cases, we have to adapt to the specific configuration.”
Q: And finally, which European city will be the first to have VTOL urban air mobility services?
FR: “As it stands, we expect to go live in the next two to three years. Singapore and Paris are in pole position, we keep reiterating on that. So for a European city, I would guess it’s Paris because of the Olympics in 2024 coming up. We have a clear commitment that we want to meet this timeline and have our operations up and running by then. If I had to make a pick today, it would be Paris.”