Volocopter is preparing to start trial operations for planned cargo deliveries using its autonomous VoloDrone vehicle. Working with its logistics partner and investor, DB Schenker, the German eVTOL aircraft developer intends to evaluate operational aspects of cargo deliveries, including ground services. The trials will start at one of DB Schenker’s facilities in Germany in May.
During a webinar organized by financial media group IPO Edge on March 23, Volocopter CFO Rene Griemens mentioned the plan to begin logistics trials this year, and this was then confirmed in a white paper on urban air mobility that Volocopter published on March 24. Griemens said the use of eVTOL aircraft in the logistics sector has the potential to increase the volume of same-day deliveries of retail products from the current rate of around 5 percent of all shipments now made by Amazon to as much as 50 percent.
The VoloDrone vehicle, which is based on the design for the VoloCity two-seat, all-electric eVTOL aircraft, will be able to carry a payload of 200 kg (440 pounds) on flights of up to 40 km (25 miles) on a single charge of its electric batteries. Volocopter says that by 2035, the market for freight deliveries using eVTOL aircraft could be worth as much as €100 billion ($118 billion) as part of a wider urban air mobility market that it says will generate €241 billion in revenues.
Griemens told IPO Edge’s audience, which was drawn mainly from U.S. investors, that Volocopter aims to be operating as many as 100,000 eVTOL vehicles worldwide by 2035. He explained that while the company insists on maintaining overall control of passenger services, it is open to partnering with other organizations, especially in some markets where authorities may require a degree of local ownership and control. He said that Volocopter already has agreed to as many as 150 “commercial” partnerships covering multiple aspects of the urban air mobility ecosystem.
According to Griemens, Volocopter has learned lessons from what he characterized as the mistakes of car manufacturers in “giving away” consumer services to other companies. That said, two of its leading investors are Chinese automotive group Geely and Germany’s Daimler, and both are involved in Volocopter’s plans to bring its aircraft into commercial service in the next two or three years. He further indicated that Volocopter won't necessarily manufacture aircraft itself, and may instead leave this activity to Geely and/or Daimler.
Griemens didn’t respond directly when asked by the IPO Edge moderator whether Volocopter will, as is widely rumored, seek to raise further investment through a public share flotation via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). He did, however, say that the SPAC investment route has had a positive impact on the urban air mobility sector by making larger sums of capital available quickly. In early March, Volocopter raised a further €200 million ($240 million) through a Series D funding round that took total capital raised to date to almost $400 million.
Also on the IPO Edge panel was Rob Wiesenthal, CEO of Blade Urban Air Mobility, which provides helicopter flights in several U.S. cities, including New York. In December 2020, Blade agreed to a merger with a SPAC called Experience Investment for a Nasdaq listing that is expected to be completed during the first half of this year, raising around $400 million.
Wiesenthal made it clear that Blade intends to operate eVTOL aircraft in its growing network. He said that helicopter charter is preparing consumers for the greater flexibility that eVTOL aircraft promise, but warned that, in his view, new companies like Volocopter won’t necessarily be able to achieve the significantly reduced operating cost structures on which they base their ambitious business models. He claimed that key services and commodities such as electrical recharging could be far more expensive than some operators expect.