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AAM Spotlight: Christian Bauer, Volocopter CCO/CFO

27 Jul 2023

AAM Spotlight: Christian Bauer, Volocopter CCO/CFO

INDUSTRY 360° | 25 APRIL 2023

Photo credit: Aviation Week Network / Volocopter

Volocopter is a German startup that is on track to become the first Western company with a certified passenger-carrying electric-vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicle, with plans to certify its two-seater VoloCity air taxi by early 2024. Christian Bauer, the company’s chief commercial and financial officer, recently sat down with the AAM Report to answer questions about the company’s business plan. A partial transcript follows:

AAM Report: The VoloCity can only carry one passenger at a time. Why did the company choose to go to market with such a small aircraft?

Bauer: We took the decision to develop a relatively simple design that could be more easily certified compared to other concepts in the market. The other consideration was the batteries. According to our research, there is not yet an industrialized, aviation-grade cell or battery out there that can lift up four or five or six people. This will come in the next two to three years, but right now we are happy to start with a lighter two-seater. Obviously, with better battery technology and energy density, we can carry more passengers and increase range, and that is what we plan to do with our larger VoloRegion aircraft, which will carry four passengers with a range of 150 km or more. We know that starting with the two-seater isn’t the most exciting path, but once we get the technology certified it will become much easier to scale up afterward.

What is Volocopter’s vision for providing air taxi services during the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics?

The Olympic Games in Paris will be a major milestone for us to show electric air taxis for the very first time in such a big venue with the whole world watching. We will fly passengers, tourists, people from the regulatory authorities–we have a long list of people who want to be among the first to fly an eVTOL, and we are still deciding how we should distribute the tickets. We are currently working with the authorities to get final approval on the routes we plan to operate, and these routes will cater to both business travelers and touristic applications in parallel. Of course, we are not doing this just for a snapshot or some marketing; the plan is to implement a sustainable commercial network there by the end of the decade. We will not run this service for just one month; we will continue to operate these routes on a permanent basis.

Are you concerned at all that the vehicle may not be certified in time for summer 2024?

Our everyday work now is tracking the timeline to Paris. We have a very complete master plan, from a production facility that we just set up–and was inaugurated with the Minister of Transport here in Germany–to our operations team, which is basically creating an airline. So, we are going now for an [Air Operator Certificate] one year in advance to gain the experience and prove that we are ready for the mission. We are tracking our development efforts together with EASA [European Union Aviation Safety Agency], and our timeline is aligned with theirs. We are very confident that we will fly next year–I cannot say a concrete date yet–but our whole company is working very efficiently to achieve that target.

Why is Volocopter setting up its own airline?

So, in Europe, we can be our own airline and have our own AOC [air operator’s certificate]. The reason was that we have to write the manual anyhow for someone else, and as of now, there is nobody out there who can safely operate these aircraft, so we choose to do it ourselves. At the end of the day, it’s also about protecting our reputation because we cannot guarantee how someone else would operate the aircraft in those critical early days. That’s why we want to be active in operations; we want to do it ourselves where possible, but we also want to work with partners from the industry that have knowledge in operations or training or maintenance. But at least in the beginning, we want to be the ones operating the VoloCity here in Europe.

The company can build up to 50 VoloCity aircraft per year at its recently opened final assembly facility. What is a realistic, mature production rate–and what does it take to get there?

We see the 50 units as a reference to learn and improve our processes, as we are still a young company. During the next stage, I see around 300 to 500 units, and then eventually up to 1,000 per year–maybe within five to seven years. Of course, in classical aviation, 100 units is already a lot per year, but we see this industry evolving to thousands or tens of thousands per year, and we think we have a realistic plan to do it step by step. I know that sounds like a lot, but I come from the automotive industry, where they produce millions each year. And we can also look at the drone industry, where a company like DJI produces around 20,000 drones per year. Of course, we realize that aviation is a different industry, but we think we can learn from those sectors to produce well into the thousands of aircraft each year.

How can Volocopter capitalize on its first mover advantage?

Being the first to market is very important to us. We have now the first five markets lined up: Paris; Rome; Singapore; Neom, Saudi Arabia; and Osaka, Japan. You need lead time to work with the transport ministry, civil aviation authority, airspace management, etc., in all those markets. We’ve done so and gained valuable experience and blueprints through that process, which no one else has because they are still too far out. And locally, we are gaining trust in those markets we plan to operate. So in Singapore, for example, we received great trust when flying there in 2019, and they are very eager for us to come back. They’ve audited our test flights, and we’ve built up a relationship with the authority there. When talking about safety, those kinds of relationships are extremely valuable. 

By: Ben Goldstein
This article was first published in Aviation Week & Space Technology. The views expressed are not necessarily shared by Aviation Week.
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