California-based electric vertical takeoff and landing startup Joby Aviation plans to offer an air taxi service in South Korea in partnership with SK Telecom (SKT), one of the country's largest telecommunication companies. The two partners signed a strategic collaboration agreement on Sunday at Joby's manufacturing facility in Marina, California.
To provide better integration between land and air travel, the air taxi service will leverage the T Map Mobility platform -- an SKT-spinoff that provides subscription-based mobility-as-a-service consisting of rental cars, parking, ride-hailing and other transportation-related services -- and the UT ride-hailing service, a joint venture formed between T Map and Uber last year, eight years after the Silicon Valley-based ride-hailing giant first attempted to enter the Korean market.
Joby and Uber's history goes back to 2019 when the two joined forces to boost Uber's plans to launch an urban air taxi service. In 2020, Uber invest $50 million in Joby's Series C, plus an additional $75 million in a transaction that included the acquisition of Uber Elevate, Uber's aerial ride-sharing unit, by Joby and an expansion of their partnership. As a result of these partnerships, Joby's ride-sharing services will be offered to passengers through either the Joby or the Uber app when it launches in U.S. markets -- Joby has said it plans to launch a commercial service in the U.S. by 2024. It is therefore likely that South Korean users will see a similar app integration with UT.
While SKT and Joby are currently seeking certification from the South Korean government, according to an SKT spokesperson, they do not yet have plans for when or where they plan to launch the air taxi service. However, a statement released by the companies expresses support of the South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport's Korean Urban Air Mobility (K-UAM) Roadmap, which sets a goal of commercializing limited UAM services by 2025 in order to reduce traffic congestion in major cities. The plan is to begin with one or two routes in the Seoul metropolitan area and get up to 10 air taxi terminals by the end of the decade, all of which would connect to local buses, subways and other forms of mobility.
SKT is a member of "UAM Team Korea," a government-led consortium of private sector stakeholders, like Hyundai, Korean Air and Incheon International Airport Corporation, to push for the early stabilization of domestic UAM.
“With more than 42 million people living in urban areas, South Korea offers a remarkable opportunity for Joby to make air travel a part of daily life, helping people to save time while reducing their carbon footprint," said JoeBen Bevirt, CEO of Joby, in a statement.
Even as Joby makes moves in South Korea, the company is targeting opportunities at home. Just last week, TechCrunch reported that Joby is seeking permission from the FCC for a series of air taxi flights over San Francisco Bay to test its second-gen pre-production prototype, the S4, which has a max range of 150 miles and a top speed of 200 miles per hour. The company also claims it has a low noise profile that would allow it to access built-up areas.