japantimes.co.jp broke the news on Tuesday (March 14th) that U.S company Lift had trialled its single-seater Hexa eVTOL over a park in Osaka City described as “The first time in Japan an eVTOL has been piloted from the cockpit.”
The website states this test in Osaka Castle Park had been overseen by Marubeni, one of the five companies selected to operate flying taxis at the Osaka Expo in 2025. The test was organised with support from the Osaka Prefectural Government “to improve awareness of eVTOLs ahead of the World Expo.”
“During the trial”, the website explains, “The craft ascended straight up into the air, lifted by its multiple propellers. It hovered about eight metres above ground, while moving backward, forward, left and right and then spun around multiple times before landing.”
The Hexa was flown by Masatoshi Kumagai, a licensed pilot and Founder/CEO of GMO Internet Group, a company which provides cybersecurity services for operation of eVTOLs and drones.
Kumagai, who underwent training in the United States for the flight, said afterwards that it had felt “like using a games console.” He added, “I think the issue now isn’t the technology, but Japanese air regulations and residents’ feelings about safety.”
Hexa In Flight (credit: GMO Internet Group)
The website hints that Lift’s Hexa may fly at the Osaka Expo in 2025 alongside those eVTOL companies already chosen. These are:-
: Marubeni is partnering with UK Vertical Aerospace.
: All Nippon Airways (ANA) with U.S Joby Aviation.
: Japan Airlines is collaborating with German-based Volocopter.
: Japan-based SkyDrive will have a major presence.
: UK’s Skyports has been chosen to assist in setting up the required infrastructure for these aircraft.
Therefore, what the latest Hexa news suggests is that other eVTOLs, perhaps a fair number, as well as an expected range of different delivery and cargo drones, could be on show at the Osaka Expo. The question being: Which ones will be flying and transporting people to and from the Expo and what others might be on display only.
Vertical Aerospace VX4 Flying over Osaka? (credit: Vertical Aerospace)
Quick Facts About Osaka Expo
: The third time Osaka has hosted an Expo (1970, 1990).
: The venue is located on the man-made artificial Yumeshima Island and Konohana-Ku (one of the 24 wards of Osaka).
: The event will last six months from April 13th to October 13th, 2025.
: Close to 30 million people are expected to attend with 3.5 million coming from overseas + additional billions of virtual visitors participating online.
: Up to 150 different countries and regions will participate creating at least 142 different pavilions as well as six International Organisations in attendance including the EU and United Nations.
: The primary theme is “Designing Future Society for Our Lives” with sub-ones “Saving Lives”, “Empowering Lives” and “Connecting Lives”.
: The Expo aims to promote the global pursuit of health, longevity, and the eradication of poverty and starvation as well as a strong emphasis on improving the environment.
: eVTOLs will play a significant role.
: Website https://www.expo2025.or.jp/en/ .
The importance of this event is highlighted by America’s presence. In December, the U.S Congress approved and President Biden signed, the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which includes USD25 million to support the U.S pavilion. This is the first time there has been an American “appropriation for participation” since the 1988 World Fair in Brisbane, Australia.
When Asia, in particular China, is perceived as a growing economic threat during recessionary times, this step is viewed by the U.S as an opportunity “to tell America’s story to world audiences numbering in their millions.” It is a major sum of money when compared to the UK, for example, who has put aside just USD1.5 million for its own pavilion. This will be located in the “Saving Lives” district with a theme “See Things Differently – Tomorrow, Today.”
Please read an interview with Hiroyuki Ishige, the Secretary-General of the Japan Association for the 2025 World Expo.
Meanwhile, Volocopter has already placed a rotor in the Expo door with a recent display of its VoloCity in Osaka promoting the event (please watch video).
What makes the Expo so important for the flying taxi industry is this will be the first time, a varied selection of eVTOL aircraft are to be shown to the world. Unlike the Paris Olympics, nine months earlier, where only Volocopter, perhaps, will be flying above the Paris skies as the lone exemplar and even then, for probably demonstration purposes only, the view amidst the present unbridled and untethered ambition of the eVTOL industry is that reality may finally catch up in April 2025.
For Osaka’s enthusiasm remains undiminished. The city is hoping for air taxis to fly on eight different routes leading to 20 flights per hour or, over 6 months, using 8 hours a day as a guide, potentially around 28,800 air taxi rides. These craft will connect Yumeshima to airports and other locations in and around Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. Potential destinations include the city itself; the Osaka Bay area; Osaka International Airport; and Kansai International.
Destinations in Kobe include the city and its Airport. Other potential locations are the close-by Awaji Island and the region surrounding Kyoto and Ise-Shima. Direct flights as well as scenic routes are in discussion and fares are being determined.
(The sound of screeching brakes)… “C’mon Man!” All this in just two years time?!
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism plans to develop the regulatory framework by no later than 2024. Regulation is key to fully certifying craft before they can commercially fly, while Air Traffic systems must be put in place to manage the proposed busy air taxi routes in already crowded skies shared by planes and helicopters.
A Part of The Proposed Lay-Out of Osaka Expo (credit: Osaka Expo)
Meanwhile, Park24, the largest car park operator in Japan, is planning to convert a parking facility into a vertiport in the western Kansai region, close to Yumeshima, as a trial. The company owns around 20,000 parking facilities. It will adhere to guidelines drawn up in Europe and the U.S., with the aim of eventually expanding the business throughout Japan. The company is to work with UK-based vertiport construction company, Skyports. It is likely more of Park24 facilities will be transformed. This should spur other operators to compete and get involved.
The Kansai space, for example, will be able to accommodate aircraft of various sizes, from small ones that can take one or two passengers to those that have a five-person capacity suitable for longer flights. European guidelines stipulate that such bases must be at least twice the size of the aircraft they are catering for in terms of both length and width for safety and regulatory reasons. Generally, an area of approximately 3,000 sq. meters is required.
The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is planning for widespread use of eVTOLs by the early 2030s, where Osaka is a major stepping stone towards this aspiration.
One eVTOL company not mentioned yet is China-based EHang. At present, there is no sign this autonomous 216 AAV air taxi has been invited to fly at the Expo. Given it is an ideal craft to employ at the Osaka event, why is this? Geopolitics, perhaps?
Meanwhile, last year the Expo Association asked for environmental-friendly ideas to incorporate into the event. There were 79 proposals and 12 were later selected. Some are “upcycling projects”.
Plans include the company ACE Japan installing benches made from wood waste; Kyoto-based Colourloop providing other benches from discarded clothing and textiles; Marubeni will provide tableware produced from food waste that can also be composted with leftover food after use; Zojirushi is to install a machine for easily washing personal water bottles; while food close to its expiration date will be turned into well-presented boxed lunches.
(credit: Osaka Expo)
Yet, the most daring project are the “circular bio-toilets”, placed throughout the event, where human waste is to be re-used as agricultural fertiliser for growing Japanese crops. The company behind this novel project, W Tokyo, plans to turn the sewage from the expected close to 30 million people attending into a dynamic form of manure.
So, when you purchase a packet of Japanese-grown rice in the latter half of 2025, be aware of its background. It could now be a superior product!
(Top image: Osaka Expo)