Zipping around Hong Kong in a drone might seem far-fetched, but would-be startup airline Seaplane Hong Kong is eyeing that possibility. With short travel times and low fares, Seaplane Hong Kong thinks its plans for urban air mobility vehicles, or drones, could be just the thing to beat Hong Kong’s congested street traffic.
“We can literally land on top of buildings,” said Seaplane Hong Kong’s CEO Steven Cheung this week when discussing his plans.
Mr Cheung is behind ambitious plans to run a fleet of seaplanes offering aerial sightseeing, charter, and air taxi services around Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area. Seaplane Hong Kong plans to use a fleet of 19 seat Twin Otter amphibious planes and make hiring one as simple as flicking open your smartphone. In their pitch, Seaplane Hong Kong says;
“Seaplane Hong Kong will be providing top-notch aerial transportation services from 2021, subject to regulatory approval.”
Seaplane Hong Kong eyes drone air taxi services
This week, Seaplane Hong Kong added drones to the mix. In a media briefing, Mr Cheung said;
“We will be expanding this urban mobility, drones, from Hong Kong Central to Kwun Tong, and then to TKO (Tseung Kwan O), significantly reducing travel time from 18 minutes to six minutes.
“We will do a trial just before the end of this year.
“In the beginning, they will be flown with manned pilots, but they are simply there for safety purposes.”
There are a few caveats here. Firstly, Seaplane Hong Kong needs to raise approximately US$13 million to get its seaplanes or drones into the air. The startup is reportedly aiming to do this via convertible notes and is also searching for “suitable strategic partners and investors.” Second, any seaplane or drone operations will need regulatory approval. Seaplane Hong Kong doesn’t yet have that. Third, Mr Cheung said he’s talking to drone manufacturers but declines to say which ones.
“We’re working with all the major manufacturers to bring them (drones) to Hong Kong. We’ve listed one, and they’ve said the technology is ready. The manufacturer can deliver the aircraft in the next three months.”
Seaplane Hong Kong isn’t the first business to float the idea of passenger drones in congested urban areas. A couple of years ago, Uber famously proposed trialing pilotless drones between airports and downtown areas in several key cities. Uber later dropped the idea. More recently, AirAsia has said it is gearing up to operate manned passenger drones around Kuala Lumpur.
Could passenger drones work in Hong Kong?
Some pundits say Hong Kong’s frequently choppy Victoria Harbour, noise from seaplane operations, and regulatory hurdles make seaplane operations a tough proposition there. But there’s also a train of thought passenger drones might suit the Hong Kong environment very nicely.
Steven Cheung says a short hop on a passenger drone will be very affordable, with fares starting from around US$25. The idea of skipping above the Hong Kong traffic in a piloted drone with a couple of friends, crossing the harbor quickly, has some appealing logic to it.
Several drone manufacturers have developed urban mobility vehicles capable of carrying passengers. But with most new technologies and ideas, there is also a matter of overcoming regulatory and public resistance.
However, Steven Cheung thinks he’s onto a winning idea. Seaplane Hong Kong says NASA estimates the passenger drone industry is expected to reach US$16 billion by 2027. Seaplane Hong Kong would like a slice of that pie.
What do you think? What are the chances of drones flying passengers around Hong Kong in the next couple of years? Post a comment and let us know.