GeoTech Feature – Next Stop: Flying Cabs

Alexander Zosel, founder of Volocopter
Alexander Zosel, founder of Volocopter

In 1981, at just 15, he constructed and built one of the first skateboard halfpipes in Germany together with a few friends, something that was unheard of at that time. Now he is the founder and chief innovation advisor for Volocopter, the global leader in electrical vertical take-off and landing multi-copters (eVTOL). Or in layman terms, drone air taxis that will fly people safely to their destination. Alexander Zosel is a serial entrepreneur with a firm belief in his vision that the mobility of the future is in three dimensions. Now with an office at GeoWorks, he is looking to expand that vision into Southeast Asia.

We spoke to Alexander about how he got involved with Volocopter and what his plans are, going forward.

Can you tell us about your background?

I studied engineering at university, but never finished my studies. By my third year, one of my side businesses – a printing company - that I had built up to finance my studies, had grown so much that I was employing eight people. Right before founding Volocopter, I worked as a paragliding teacher.

What interest you to enter the air taxi business?

When Stephan Wolf, my co-founder, contacted me in 2011 to explain that, based on his calculations, you could scale up drone technology powerful enough to fly people, I was amazed! Stephan is interested in the technological aspects of flying, but did not have any idea how to make a marketable product out of his invention. Knowing that I am somewhat of a serial entrepreneur, he contacted me. It took me just a couple of hours to come up with a plethora of ideas on how such aircraft could change the world.

When did you found Volocopter?

We performed the first flight with a yoga ball in October 2011 and received a lot of attention. The flight lasted 90 seconds and become a Guinness World Record. We founded Volocopter after that, and I started working full-time on air taxis.

What are the aims/goals of Volocopter? What do you envision Volocopter to be like in 10 years?

At Volocopter, we want to make personal flights accessible for everybody and help alleviate the traffic issues of megacities across the world.

What challenges did you find in getting this business off the ground?

When we started developing the idea for air taxis more than seven years ago, people thought we were out of our minds. They thought it was ridiculous and what we were trying to do was impossible. But we kept believing and moving forward with our project. Now we are the pioneers in a large market.

Volocopter at RotorCraft Asia 2019.
Volocopter at RotorCraft Asia 2019.

What are your immediate priorities for the next 12 months?

The technology has matured, and we are flying regularly here in Bruchsal, Germany. Now, we are talking to cities around the world to get all licensing and certification for inner-city test flights. We have already completed one of these in Dubai in 2017, and are preparing to do so in Singapore later this year.

What's your biggest dream (as an entrepreneur/executive) going forward?

By the time I retire in twelve years' time, I want there to be Volocopter air-taxi infrastructure networks serving several cities all over the world.

What is the primary interest in testing drone taxis in Singapore? What conditions make it right for Volocopter?

Singapore is a true pioneer in technology, and urban city development. This makes the city a perfect place to making air taxis a reality. Furthermore, the know-how and experience gained during this project can also serve as a blueprint for introducing air taxis to other cities around the region.

Beyond Singapore shores, what other countries are opportunities for you? Why?

We are in talks with several cities across the world, which ones exactly I cannot tell you quite yet. But any city facing traffic issues due to geography such as rivers, lakes and elevations would be an interesting city for Volocopter. Adding the possibility of flight into the traditional mobility mix, will help alleviate the issues facing those cities.

There are concerns about safety. How do you think these issues can be overcome over the next few years?

These are very important concerns, although, when I ask large audiences at conferences, the majority of them express confidence in taking one. Regarding the safety considerations, we will be certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency before we are allowed to fly commercially. They will do a thorough check of all our procedures and the aircraft itself before awarding us a license. Volocopter air taxis will be at least as safe as commercial airlines.

From a regulation, environmental and operational standpoint, how does Singapore compare to the rest of the world in this space?

Singapore is certainly open and advanced in many aspects. The swift and smooth collaboration between different government agencies gives them a distinct competitive advantage.

What skillsets/technical qualifications do you look for to encourage the growth of this industry?

Generally, we are looking for bright-minded driven people, who want to help shape a whole new industry and market. Technical qualifications range from autonomy, battery, air and space engineering and so on. Basically, the skills that most mobility companies are recruiting for.

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