In an interview with Skyports’ new Japan Country Manager, Atsushi Okada, we take a closer look at the adoption of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) in Japan, the country’s unique position and distinct attributes, and the impact that AAM will have in Japan.
Q: AAM technology has a very human-oriented end goal. Can you tell us more about your thoughts on the industry?
The cities we live in have grown out of necessity. Over hundreds of years, small communities have grown into vast and sprawling urban hubs. This cumulative urban growth has created cities that don’t always work for us. With AAM technology, we are embedding usability and efficiency so that cities work effectively for the people who live and travel within them.
AAM pushes the boundaries for a future that is more human-centric . We are re-evaluating conventional infrastructural approaches to use the vast space above our cities to counter transportation challenges within heavily congested and built-up urban spaces.
My personal aspiration is very much aligned to that of Skyports – to integrate ground and air mobility, people and goods, for a better, safer and more sustainable urban future.
Q: The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in much disruption across industries. What impact has it had on the AAM industry?
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted how AAM can transform the movement of people and goods even in times of restricted interactions, driving greater interest in our work.
With movement restrictions and a greater reliance on e-commerce and home deliveries, every sector had to evolve to survive. This shift had a notable knock-on effect in terms of innovation and the readiness to embrace new ways of working. Technology solutions such as autonomous drone deliveries, which require a small and often remote team to operate effectively, but which can facilitate access to critical medical tests and medicines in hard-to-reach areas, highlighted an opportunity for innovation that would benefit society.
The pandemic illustrated that our existing modes of transport – while excellent – continue to have limitations. AAM technology will be able to connect existing and evolving mobility systems, and will introduce a seamless and frictionless way to move from point A to point B. Once unlocked, we will be able to travel more easily, and access hard to reach areas more directly.
Q: Skyports is developing AAM infrastructure and operating models across the world. What is Japan’s unique proposition?
To talk about the reality Skyports is creating, I will first reference a work of fiction. In the Japanese manga Doraemon, Nobita and Doraemon use the battery-powered gadget, Take-copter, to travel by air from point to point, overcoming obstacles on land and sea. Some 50 years on, this is a concept that we have seen repeatedly in the comic book series, video games and cartoons.
The Japanese have clearly had this vision for a long time, but we are now taking that gadget beyond fiction into the real world. Assessing both human elements and natural geography, AAM has the potential to benefit the country in many ways.
Japan’s reputation for public transportation is unique in that it is regularly applauded for its efficiency – so what is AAM’s role in an already well-oiled machine?
The Shinkansen, metro train networks, and buses are widely used across Japan. In fact, more than 80% of commuters in Japan use public transportation in the city centers. In the ‘mega-regions’ of Tokyo and Osaka, which are home to approximately 30 and 20 million people respectively, the demand is extreme at peak times. In such a setting, creating greater connectivity within the region is invaluable to overall productivity and well-being.
In addition, AAM will be able to complement existing transport systems with greater last-mile connectivity and inter-region travel – bringing current levels of mobility to whole new heights.
With Japan’s super-aged population, the efficiency brought about by AAM technology will also play an important role in supporting the future workforce of the country. By complementing existing logistics and transportation operations, an intensifying labour crunch can be alleviated significantly.
At the same time, Japan’s natural geography is a compelling use case for AAM technology. It is a country with more than 6,000 islands, over 18,000 mountains, and is vulnerable to frequent earthquakes and typhoons. With AAM technology and infrastructure in place, we will be able to greatly enhance disaster relief, search and rescue, and emergency response efforts in times of need.
Q: What is the AAM-enabled future you envision for Japan then?
I envision an unprecedented scale of connectedness that will bring communities across Japan’s cities, suburban areas, and islands closer together. This new societal norm will be safer, more sustainable and accessible.
Within major cities like Tokyo and Osaka Kansai, AAM will play a part in elevating connectivity by enhancing the efficiency and overall capability of the entire transport ecosystem. Together with autonomous driving vehicles, on-demand buses, and high speed railways, the goal is to develop a seamlessly integrated transport network to get people and goods to their destinations in a faster, more economical and sustainable manner.
Multi-modal connectivity between different forms of transport is also key, and the Japanese transportation system is an exemplar. A network of vertiports will play an important role as hubs to connect AAM to ground and sea level transportation. When deployed at scale, such options will be priced similarly to taxi fares to ensure accessibility for potential users.
With Japan’s highly differentiated landscape, AAM will also connect remote islands and bustling city centres. Creating a future where moving between islands at the Southern tip of Japan or travelling to airports within each region requires fewer transfers and is faster.
On a macro-level, the burgeoning AAM industry will play a part in strengthening the resilience of cities. Stimulating the economy and inducing greater inflows of capital through investments, tourism and the creation of new jobs and ancillary industries. Importantly, with the use of full-electric aircraft and minimal waste modular vertiport designs, Skyports leads the way in ensuring that the industry will also be a large contributor to the country’s carbon neutral goals.
Q: What’s next for Skyports’ work in Japan?
Before the industry can fully take off, a lot of groundwork must first be done. We must work to build a vibrant and collaborative ecosystem of AAM players, while we continue to verify our business model for real-world deployment.
AAM is an emerging industry, but has its roots in the aviation, transportation and logistics sectors. Coupled with the experience from our work in frontrunning AAM cities in the US, Europe and Singapore, we do not have to re-invent the wheel. Rather, we can and should leverage our foundational expertise and experience to develop tailored frameworks for the AAM industry. At Skyports, we are focused on playing a leading role in developing this ecosystem, that consists of dedicated AAM companies such as vehicle OEMs and unmanned traffic management developers, traditional aviation and transportation companies, and the public sector – such as regulators and standards setting organisations.
Together, our collective efforts in conducting feasibilities studies, technology trials and limited deployments will accrue the necessary data points to drive insights for developing practical business operating models. This will take time and consistent collaboration, but Skyports and our partners are already on this path to the realization of AAM.
At Skyports, the benefit of our global portfolio of partners, investors and real-world projects will serve us in good stead to make continued progress across all our target markets – Japan included.
Towards Osaka EXPO 2025, we look forward to continued collaboration with the authorities, businesses and public stakeholders in Japan to develop and grow the AAM industry. To build a truly effective ecosystem, our team will work closely with government organisations, vehicle OEMs, airline operators, vertiport developer and operators, and other supporting functions such as insurance providers and real estate owners.
If you are interested in building a vertiport or finding out more about our work in Japan, please contact Atsushi at [email protected].