‘There are several immediate challenges for urban air mobility and drone services in Japan. Firstly, the legal issues: drone use by end-users is in the process of being regulated, while legislation for commercial use of drones is in progress. Specifically, an aircraft category for Level 4 flight and a drone pilot class will be established by the end of 2022. However, there have been few Level 4 demonstrations of large drones weighing more than 25 kg, and they are still in the realm of social experiments. In addition, large drones weighing more than 100 kg (150 kg in the future) are treated as unmanned aircraft under the civil aeronautics law and cannot currently fly without ensuring safety equivalent to that of an aircraft, creating a barrier to entry for drone manufacturers and start-ups.

Secondly, there are the manufacturing issues. In Japan, there is a movement toward fully domestic production of drones. While there are a certain number of manufacturers of large drone airframes, many of the major components such as batteries, motors, and flight controllers are made overseas. It is necessary to domestically produce key drone components while taking advantage of Japan’s strengths in cameras, sensors, wireless piloting, carbon products and so on. Japan has few manufacturers of large eVTOL airframes like those used for urban air mobility, and only a few companies produce single-seat eVTOLs. Several startups have emerged that aim to manufacture large eVTOLs in 2022, which should accelerate aircraft development.

Furthermore, there are the service model issues. Regarding urban air mobility, Japan has a “Public-Private Council on the Air Mobility Revolution” that is studying use cases, but in Japan, with its well-developed urban transportation network, it is unlikely that services such as air-taxi will replace conventional transportation. Therefore, use case studies, including services, are being conducted using short-distance passenger transport for the 2025 Osaka Expo as a benchmark. Other use cases being considered include air mobility services in depopulated areas and resort areas rather than urban areas, but since the performance of the operating aircraft is not yet clear, a profitable service model has not yet been drawn. Initially, it is likely that the service will be provided by introducing aircraft from Europe and the U.S., where the airframe and operating models are more complete, and domestic development will follow these models.

Except for aerial photography, the drone industry in Japan has yet to become a profitable business, especially in the area of logistics, which is still in the stage of social experimentation with public subsidies. As for air mobility, only a few companies are developing air mobility through private funds or public funding, and it cannot be said that clusters for manufacturing have been formed. In addition, the authority for rule-making has not been transferred to the private sector, and the rules of Europe and the U.S., which are ahead of the competition, have not been successfully incorporated. In addition, there are very few academics interested in urban air mobility, including existing aviation. I think what we should learn especially from Europe is how to operate a sustainable and comprehensive urban air mobility team of private sector projects, and to collaborate with the competent authorities.

Unfortunately, Japan’s skills to manufacture aircraft from scratch have disappeared, and the industrial clusters that manufacture passenger aircraft and automotive components have the manufacturing quality, but not the capability to manufacture eVTOLs. Perhaps what Japan can contribute to the world is to support the global urban air mobility supply chain with high-quality manufacturing skills from small and medium-sized companies.

We feel that the scope of the AiRMOUR project is clear and the future of the service is easy to envision. It can be drone medicine transportation, blood transfusion and medicine express between hospitals, eVTOL dispatch of doctors and EMS service. They are emergency services and can be operated on an exclusive and priority basis, thus reducing physical risks such as collisions and increasing social acceptability compared to other air mobility services. As one of the standard protocols for medical care, we expect AiRMOUR to advocate various standards and operational criteria for air medical services. Japan has pioneered the service with private medical institutions and operators since the first air medical helicopter flew over the country 30 years ago, and a law on nationwide deployment was established 15 years ago. Japan is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons, and EMS with air mobility plays a major role. We look forward to AiRMOUR’s research on establishing air mobility services that complement helicopter functions.’

Professor Gaku Minorikawa is Special Advisor at JUIDA, Japan UAS Industrial Development Association. JUIDA is the only non-profit organization in Japan that seamlessly covers urban air mobility such as unmanned aerial vehicles and passenger eVTOLs. The organization is working to build a supply chain for urban air mobility. In the future, it hopes to develop into a comprehensive authority for the manufacture, operation, service, and management of air mobility, including eVTOL. JUIDA organizes the largest yearly Drone Exhibition and Conference in Japan: Japan Drone and International Advanced Air Mobility Expo. Furthermore, JUIDA publishes the Technical Journal of Advanced Mobility, an online journal dedicated to the exchange of information related to cutting-edge technology.