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Choppers herald urban air mobility in Shenzhen

By Hu Tao and Wang Feng in Shenzhen, Guangdong | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-03 11:22

A woman cleans a prototype of the electric air-taxi "CityAirbus" set up on stage prior to its presentation in Ingolstadt, Germany. [Photo/Xinhua]

Pressing a button to call a helicopter to a rooftop, once the stuff of sci-fi stories, could soon be a reality in China's southern metropolis of Shenzhen.

An urban air mobility or UAM project is expected to make the Chinese innovation hub, renowned for its "Shenzhen speed", even faster.

The joint project between Airbus and the Shenzhen Commerce Bureau will add a new dimension to its urban transport system.

"We understand the potential of Shenzhen - the innovative spirit, and the opportunity to create an additional solution for the city and a service," said Eduardo Dominguez Puerta, senior vice-president and head of Urban Air Mobility of Airbus.

Tailored UAM services will be introduced in Shenzhen by the end of this year, making it the first Chinese city with helicopters in its urban public transport.

"Airbus is collaborating closely with China on helicopters. We would like to start introducing this UAM service with existing helicopters and in parallel develop the new electronic vertical take-off and landing (or eVTOL) and next-generation vehicles," Puerta said.

A digital platform will be tailored to Shenzhen, adapted to the Chinese customer and connected to the existing transport system.

The seamless end-to-end transport solution could combine any type of ground transport and mobility with the air.

"I hope that we can prove together at the end of this year that this is not science fiction, but an existing reality and an option for people in Shenzhen," said Puerta.

"It is going to be much more public as the price will be more acceptable to the public. Its value as a new urban transport form is far beyond business," he said.

The city that pioneered China's reform and opening-up, Shenzhen is now among the world's leading innovation hot spots and home to prominent innovative enterprises. It is also a key city in China's Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Yang Hong, an official of the Shenzhen government, said it will propel Shenzhen to the global forefront of intelligent transport systems.

"Eyeing the world's highest standards, Shenzhen is striving to enhance its stable, equitable, transparent and predictable business environment," Yang said.

It welcomes global enterprises, including Airbus, to develop in Shenzhen and in the Greater Bay Area.

In 2018, more than 15.51 million vehicles and 250 million people passed through the ports of Shenzhen.

A robust economy and close economic links with other cities in the area are pushing it to create an even faster, more intelligent and environmentally friendly transport system.

"We understand the potential of Shenzhen and the area," Puerta said, noting that Shenzhen has 20 million people with an average age of 33, "which means people are very innovative and very forward-looking".

Shenzhen has an all-electric urban bus fleet. More than 20,000 new energy vehicles, mostly electric taxis, are shuttling around the city.

"We believe people in Shenzhen will be willing to accept and embrace these types of solutions, which will be an example for China as well as for the world," said Derek Cheng, Airbus' head of Asia-Pacific Urban Air Mobility.

The technological ecosystem and range of potential partners in the area "make this a great choice for the development of UAM", he said.

UAM is among the world's most popular solutions to tackling urban traffic congestion and air pollution.

"Airbus has been injecting efforts for years in this innovative field," Puerta said.

The European aerospace giant has developed UAM projects, such as the B2C digital platform Voom, the vertical take-off and landing Vahana vehicle, and the air traffic management system that will be required to make UAM a reality.

Airbus has introduced the Voom in Brazil and Mexico. Over 18 months, the urban helicopter services have transported more than 10,000 people.

"UAM is not only about vehicles; it requires infrastructure and enhanced air traffic management capability and full integration with transportation means in the cities," said Puerta.

He believes that Airbus is capable of proposing a full ecosystem together with partners to understand and meet the Chinese market.

"A dynamic economy, increasing demand, an innovative spirit alongside infrastructure - all these factors form the basis and give us the confidence to be based here," Cheng said.

"Asia is an important market for UAM services. We see the wave of infrastructure growth and the growth of rapid urbanization in Asia will require new mobility solutions and we think UAM can be a good complement," he said. "Let's make it fly in Shenzhen, in China."

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