Advanced Air Mobility Interviews

An Interview with Marubeni

An Interview with Marubeni

How positive do you feel about the potential UAM market in Japan?

Our assessment is highly positive. There is clear demand, strong political will, and lots technical capabilities in Japan to materialize the UAM market.

Do you think there is too much money being poured into the sector?

No, we don’t think so. OEMs require a lot of money for certification. The top five to six OEMs raised money and listed on the NYSE, but we need more OEMs to cover the potential demand of eVTOLs, which could be a couple of hundred thousand globally. If all of the forecasts issued by major consulting firms are right, more money will pour into the sector.

Apart from certification and regulatory barriers, what other roadblocks do you think UAM will face?

Infrastructure, resource, and public acceptance. To scale the UAM market with high density operations, it will require many vertiports, and they should be well located close to existing transportation locations to maximize the passenger’s experience.

Many pilots and maintenance/ground staff will also be required to enable operations. High level automation is the driver to reduce required pilot/maintenance training in the long term.

The national character of the Japanese as “Zero-Risk” may slowdown implementation, but all of the challenges faced in Japan will also be faced in other countries.

Several OEMs are aiming to start services in time for Expo Osaka 2025, do you think that is achievable?

Yes, but there will be a limited number of eVTOLs and limited number of areas/ routes.

Osaka is aiming to have a sustainable UAM operation post Expo. The area has geographical advantages for UAM, as it surrounded by water (Osaka Bay). Starting operations in Megacities like Osaka will develop confidence in Japan for UAM, and that will be a substantial trigger to expand UAM systems throughout Japan.

Osaka prefecture formed a round table with potential ecosystem players to define a roadmap that assesses regulatory and operational challenges up to, and beyond, 2025, and Osaka’s Popular governor, Hirofumi Yoshimura is a strong supporter of these activities which assist reinforcing momentum.

Is there enough infrastructure already in Japan to support UAM operations?

Yes. The number of existing helipads, emergency landing pads (including roof tops) and rarely used rural airports are quite plentiful. However, new vertiports are required for matured operation of UAM in the long term.

Many people believe Tokyo will be one of the first places to begin UAM operations, do you think that strict regulations mean that it won’t be one of the first?

We believe Osaka will be the first for UAM because of Expo 2025. But that doesn’t mean Tokyo is stricter than Osaka.

Which do you believe will be more popular, short range urban flights, or city to city flights?

We believe that “city to city” flights should provide better passenger experience, especially routes over water and poor train/road access, but direct mid/long range flights from airport to destination will be popular routes.

Highly matured public transportation systems in three mega cities, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, will be tough competition for short range urban flights. However, the gap of a radial network of train and highway will be a good opportunity for replacement by UAM, and peak time congested highways are an easy win.

What is Marubeni’s vision of the eVTOL and UAM sector?

We truly believe this is the future. The future is now for electrification in aviation for ultra-short haul routes, which harmonizes with our corporate direction to be carbon neutral.

The vision of Marubeni, as industrial conglomerate, is to orchestrate its internal/external assets and partners, to establish a UAM operational platform. As an initial approach, our aim is to establish UAM ride-sharing operations with credible OEMs and operational partners.

We also aim to develop, or jointly develop, support systems such as MRO, life-cycle battery management, a pilot academy, vertiports etc. to enable scaled operations as a mid-term approach.

We signed an MoU with Vertical Aerospace last year with 200 pre-order options, which should cover the initial demand for UAM in Japan. Our next step is to select potential routes in regions, including Osaka, for initial demand modelling and run simulation models for costings. If all looks good, then we will shift gear and plan to launch in 2025. That will require ecosystem partners, which we are currently talking with.