Volocopter, Bristow Partner To Launch Service In U.S., UK
Volocopter and the Bristow Group have partnered to launch aerial mobility services in the U.S. and UK, with a firm order for two VoloCity air taxis and options for up to 78 more.
Initial deliveries are expected shortly following the two-seater electric-vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicle’s European type certification and concurrent validation by the FAA. Volocopter Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Financial Officer Christian Bauer tells the AAM Report these steps could allow the startup to launch U.S. service by 2025, which would be on track with proposed timelines from Archer and Joby Aviation.
The partnership is significant because it establishes a hybrid model for the German startup, which has obtained an air operator’s certificate from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for its own air taxi service in Europe, with initial operations planned for mid-2024, in time for the Paris Summer Olympics.
But because of foreign ownership restrictions in the U.S. and elsewhere, Bauer says Volocopter will operate as a more traditional OEM outside of Europe, providing its aircraft and VoloIQ operating software to customers along with support for parts, maintenance and training.
“Our core business—OEM plus software—is what we are looking to establish abroad, but not in Europe,” Bauer says.
While the first two firm orders will be for the first-generation VoloCity, Bauer says follow-on orders could be for the next-generation VoloCity, which could be type certified by 2026, according to public comments by CEO Dirk Hoke.
Bauer also said Bristow could potentially opt for the longer-range, lift-plus-cruise VoloRegion aircraft, also expected to be certified around 2026.
Bauer says Volocopter and Bristow are still working to define initial launch markets in the U.S.—naming Florida, California and Texas as possible contenders—and noting that different states have varying projected levels of customer demand and governmental support.
In the UK, he names the London market as the main target area at launch because that is where Volocopter has partnerships with Skyports Infrastructure, London City Helipad and other general aviation airports. “We were missing an operational partner, however, so now with Bristow we have that missing puzzle piece in place,” Bauer says.
In terms of applications, he says Bristow will likely use the VoloCity for passenger services, a market into which the operator is looking to expand. Another option is Bristow’s search-and-rescue operation, which is a use case in which Bauer says Volocopter is increasingly interested. He cited the startup’s recent partnership with German automobile association ADAC Luftrettung on emergency rescue services, with Volocopter supplementing the group’s helicopter fleet.
Volocopter has built two conforming VoloCity aircraft to be used for EASA flight testing, although the company has not yet flown them, Bauer says. He added that work is ongoing to obtain necessary approvals and documentation from the regulator. “I think it is safe to say we will be flying them very soon. Then, within 10 months or so, we expect to receive type certification,” he says.
In July the company obtained its G1 certification basis from the FAA, which Bauer says should allow it to achieve concurrent validation of its EASA-issued type certificate with a time lag of “six months, maximum.”
In the meantime, as Volocopter prepares to launch service outside of its home jurisdiction, it is seeking ecosystem partnerships including operators, infrastructure companies and real estate groups.
“Now that we have a concrete certification road map, we can launch [in the U.S.] in 2025, but first we need the partners to do that,” Bauer adds.