Written by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
THE CONSORTIUM, LED BY SK TELECOM (SKT), HAS PARTNERED WITH THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT OF JEJU, AIMING TO BEGIN COMMERCIAL PILOT FLIGHTS IN 2025
Today, a South Korean consortium headed by mobile operator SKT has announced a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Jeju Special Self-Governing Province as it builds towards the launching the country’s first urban air mobility (UAM) services.
The resort island of Jeju is one of South Korea’s leading domestic tourist attractions, reportedly attracting a record 6.8 million tourists during the first half of 2022. As such, SKT and its partners believe the island is the perfect location to begin testing its UAM capabilities, envisaging a future where airborne taxis ferry visitors across the Island.
“We will turn Jeju Island, an eco-friendly tourist attraction, into the main game changer for the future mobility service by growing the region into an innovative base for UAMs,” said SK Telecom CEO Ryu Young-sang.
The consortium itself, known as the K-UAM Dream Team Consortium, was formed earlier this year and includes defence and IT specialist Hanwha Systems, the Korea Meteorological Institute, and Korea Airports Corporation (KAC), the national airport authority, alongside SKT.
The partners intend to launch a commercial pilot project in 2025, with Jeju’s local government agreeing to oversee and support the project.
SKT will provide the UAM connectivity platform for the pilot project, which it has been co-developing with US firm Joby Aviation since February this year.
Joby is currently developing its own electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) service that it hopes to launch in the US in 2024. The company’s eVTOL vehicle will reportedly have a range of 241km and will be able to reach speeds of up 322km/h.
KAC, meanwhile, will establish take-off ports for the air taxis and monitor them in the air using existing flight safety infrastructure. The exact location for the take-off and landing area (known as a ‘vertiport’) has yet to be identified.
Finally, Hanwha Systems will help develop, operate, and manage the air taxi itself, including helping the consortium to develop navigation and control solutions.
“The K-UAM Dream Team Consortium will do its best to lower the psychological hurdles for new transportation methods in Jeju, where tourism and cultural resources are concentrated, and to lead the future mobility paradigm,” added Hanwha Systems chief executive Seong-cheol Eo.
The K-UAM Dream Team Consortium is currently preparing to compete in the K-UAM Grand Challenge, a competition set up by the South Korean government to demonstrate the safety of UAM flight and find the country’s first official UAM operator.
Multiple rival consortiums have been formed to take part in the Challenge, with many of South Korea’s largest companies, such as car-maker Hyundai, Korean IT firm Kakao Group, and conglomerate Lotte Group, taking leading roles.
Indeed, two of these consortium’s also feature SKT’s direct competitors, KT and LG Uplus. KT announced in November last year that they had formed a partnership with Hyundai Motor Company, Hyundai Engineering & Construction Company, Incheon International Airport Corporation, and Korean Air to develop their own UAM capabilities. Likewise, LG Uplus announced earlier this year that it was teaming up with Kakao Mobility and GS Caltex for a similar UAM pilot in Busan, South Korea’s second largest city.
Much like drones, flying vehicles will need ubiquitous, low latency connectivity to function effectively and safely, hence it is hardly surprising that the nation’s largest mobile operators are set to play a central role in the development of commercial UAM services.
The South Korean government is set to announce the consortiums chosen to participate in the Challenge in November, with demonstrations by the entrants planned to take place in Seoul and Jeollanam-do province in 2023 and 2024.