Japan’s SkyDrive eyes US eVTOL market

Avatar for Aaron KarpBy Aaron Karp | January 26, 2023

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 11 seconds.

Japanese eVTOL developer SkyDrive is targeting the U.S. for potential sales of its SD-05 vehicle, and has established a base of operations in South Carolina to explore the U.S. market.

As SkyDrive enters what it calls the final phase of its SD-05 aircraft design, the company is looking at the U.S. as a potential market outside of Japan. SkyDrive Image

Founded in 2018, SkyDrive has been promoting its eVTOL as a “flying car” that will have an in-service debut as an air taxi at the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, Japan. The company is endeavoring to gain type certification from Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism for the two-seat SD-05.

During a Jan. 24 presentation at the Vertical Flight Society’s (VFS) eVTOL Symposium in Mesa, Arizona, SkyDrive CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa said the company will also seek a type certificate from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He explained the company is entering “the final phase of aircraft design” and considers the U.S. as its “focus outside Japan” for potential SD-05 sales.

SkyDrive has established a temporary office in Beaufort, South Carolina, where it will collaborate with local entities, including airports, to study infrastructure needs for eVTOL operations in the state.

A SkyDrive spokesperson said the company has had a small, temporary office space in Beaufort since July 2022, which is being used by company executives making regular business trips to South Carolina to promote the SD-05 and advanced air mobility (AAM).

“SkyDrive has decided to form a business infrastructure within the state and to work with South Carolina in realizing an advanced air mobility ecosystem, which will bring the state to the forefront in its ability to support the commercial operations of eVTOL aircraft,” SkyDrive said in a statement.

The company said it plans to partner with “local flight operators” with an eye toward commercial operations starting in 2026.

The SD-05 is designed to carry two riders, including the pilot, and is expected to have a range of up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and a maximum cruise speed of 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour). Its maximum take-off weight is targeted at 1,100 kilograms (2,400 pounds). The air taxi will feature 12 propellers and electric motors.

One of SkyDrive’s partners is Greenville Downtown Airport, the largest general aviation airport in South Carolina. Located three miles east of the city of Greenville, the airport views eVTOLs as an option to quickly move people between the airport and the city center.

Greenville Downtown Airport director James Stephens said the airport has partnered with SkyDrive “to assist with the modeling of an FAA-compliant AAM ecosystem that will serve our local region and state. We’ve done so because the airport needs to know what the infrastructure developmental needs will be in the future. We believe that the impact of advanced air mobility in Greenville will create a new form of transportation that eventually becomes part of the normal transportation processes within our community and around the world.”

Also partnering with SkyDrive is Columbia Metropolitan Airport, the commercial airport serving South Carolina’s capital city.

Fukuzawa said South Carolina will be SkyDrive’s “window into the U.S. market.” He noted the state is already “a significant player” in aerospace manufacturing. Boeing has a 787 final assembly facility in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Lockheed Martin builds the F-16 military jet at a Greenville plant.

According to Fukuzawa, South Carolina’s aviation background provides SkyDrive with a “substantial platform that enables us to achieve our goals,” explaining that the state “has a proven ability to excel in advanced aerospace manufacturing.”

SkyDrive has not announced any U.S. manufacturing plans.

While Japan and the U.S. are viewed by SkyDrive as the most promising potential markets for the SD-05, the company is also promoting its eVTOL in other countries. In November 2022, SkyDrive signed a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam’s Pacific Group for a pre-order of 10 SD-05 vehicles with options for an additional 90 aircraft. Fukuzawa noted urban areas in Vietnam are “crowded with motorcycles and automotives” and need alternative forms of transportation.

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