Unlikely players team up to lead South Korea’s air taxi industry

The United States is perhaps one of the best countries to start an urban air mobility company. You only have to look at how fast well-funded startups like Joby Aviation, Wisk Aero and Lillium are building and testing electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL, aircraft.

However, South Korea, which lacks the venture capital, entrepreneurial ecosystem and aerospace legacy of the U.S., might be the first to lay the groundwork for taking urban air mobility (UAM) from an expensive science project into a viable service.

In 2020, the South Korean government set out its road map to commercialize air taxis by 2025, a goal that has since empowered mobility-focused private companies to form consortia dedicated to that end. Now, in addition to carmakers, seemingly unlikely players — think telecommunications companies and ride-sharing platforms — are pushing the UAM industry forward.

The unusual suspects

It’s not a stretch to imagine automakers getting involved in this space. Indeed, some American companies like General Motors have air mobility in their sights. After all, they have the brand recognition and the manufacturing might to at least get a vehicle off the production line.

In South Korea, Hyundai, the country’s biggest carmaker, has earmarked KRW 1.8 trillion ($1.4 billion) for flying taxis in South Korea by 2025. The company in 2020 also formed a consortium with South Korean telco giant KT and a couple other companies to commercialize UAMs by 2028 and build the country’s first vertiport at the Millennium Hilton Seoul.

Now, you’re probably wondering how telecommunications firms fit into this equation. Predictably, it appears they fill out the communications part of the puzzle.