BARCELONA, Spain — South Korean telecommunications giant SK Telecom plans to launch a flying taxi service in 2025 and expects it to generate “significant” profits in the future, an executive told CNBC.
Last year, SK Telecom and the American company Joby Aviation signed a contract to develop air taxis for the South Korean market. Joby Aviation is a manufacturer of so-called electric vertical take-off and landing devices. Proponents see these electric flying cars as a way to transport people around densely populated cities and avoid traffic.
The South Korean government aims to commercialize air taxis by 2025.
SK Telecom and Joby Aviation are looking to take advantage of government support. Ha Min-young, SK Telecom’s chief development officer, told CNBC on Sunday that the company’s air taxi service will be available for commercial use “sometime in mid-2025” before expanding into other areas such as logistics.
“So by 2025, if we can prove that the quality of service is acceptable to the general public with safety and security, then they [the government] will allow the operator to expand its scope of service, including logistics and tourism, as well as medical-related services,” Ha told CNBC at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain.
SK Telecom is looking to expand its business beyond being a traditional mobile operator and is targeting new areas such as artificial intelligence and flying taxis. These aircraft will need to connect to next-generation 5G networks to operate and fly, eventually autonomously. That’s where SK Telecom’s expertise comes in.
SK Telecom is partnering with US firm Joby Aviation to bring flying taxis to South Korea in 2025. SK Telecom is looking to diversify its business model through new areas including urban air mobility and artificial intelligence.
Arjun Harpal | CNBC
While this form of transportation is in its early stages, consultancy Roland Berger predicts that by 2050, there will be around 160,000 unmanned electric drones in use worldwide. Annual income from them will be almost 90 billion dollars, the company says.
SK Telecom wants a piece of the pie, and Ha said that if all goes well, air taxis could be a big profit driver for the company “but not immediately.”
“So, for the next five at least [to] seven years, we have to make sure that the service that we’re going to offer, you know, to the community and the community, is safe enough,” Ha said.
“Once it’s well received by the community and society, we believe it will generate a significant amount of revenue.”