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'Drone taxi’ race heats up as Korean Air, Lotte announce new urban air mobility projects

Presidents and CEOs of KT, Korean Air, Incheon International Airport Corp., Hyundai Motor and Hyundai E&C sign a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to introduce urban air mobility. (Korean Air)
Presidents and CEOs of KT, Korean Air, Incheon International Airport Corp., Hyundai Motor and Hyundai E&C sign a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to introduce urban air mobility. (Korean Air)
The race to commercialize urban air mobility services is heating up as national flag carrier Korean Air and retail giant Lotte on Tuesday announced new projects to help introduce drone airport shuttles.

Korean Air said it has signed an agreement with Hyundai Motor, Incheon International Airport Corp., KT and Hyundai E&C to help build UAM infrastructure and improve social acceptance toward the new means of public transport.

The airline will share its experience of operating passenger and cargo flights and start developing a UAM control and operation system as well as a traffic management system.

In a separate, but related development, Lotte Group announced its participation in an alliance of global and local companies to launch an aerial shuttle service between Incheon Airport and Seoul’s Jamsil.

From the South Korean conglomerate, two companies -- the holdings firm Lotte Corp. and Lotte Rental -- will join partners including American autogyro research and development company Skyworks Aeronautics, Mobius.energy Corp. and South Korean air mobility startup Mint Air, and assist them in demonstrating an urban air mobility system in Incheon.

Lotte Rental will focus on operating a mobility platform that connects the ground with air routes with plans to build and operate vertiports, which will work as takeoff and landing pads and charging stations. Lotte Corp. will harness its networks and expertise to provide support for flight demonstration, the conglomerate said.

“To prepare for the approaching age of urban air mobility, the group will put effort into ensuring the flight demonstration is a success,” one Lotte official said.

The announcements were made during the first day of 2021 K-UAM Confex -- a two-day event focusing on urban air mobility which is being held by Incheon Metropolitan City until Wednesday.

Incheon Metropolitan City and the Institute for Aerospace Industry-Academia Collaboration will provide support for flight demonstration and business operation.

The UAM market could grow to reach 13 trillion won ($11 billion) domestically and 130 trillion won internationally by 2040, Korean Air said.

Against this backdrop, the government launched UAM Team Korea last year with the goal of rolling out so-called flying taxies in 2025.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)
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