We get behind the controls of a Magni M16 gyroplane, chat with NASA engineers about the Mars Helicopter, look at Helinet’s firefighting Black Hawk & reflect on the legacy left by Universal Helicopters.
Airbus’s helicopter booking service Voom has permanently ceased operation, citing completion of its twin goals of establishing a first-to-market rotorcraft ridesharing platform and “democratizing the urban skies.”
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced Voom to shutter its operations in São Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City; and the San Francisco Bay area on March 23. A week later, Voom chief executive Clément Monnet, in concert with Airbus leadership, “made the tough call that Voom will not resume its operations.”
Voom launched in 2016 as one part of a multi-pronged effort by Airbus to position itself for the emerging eVTOL and urban air mobility market. Using helicopters, the company tackled the logistical challenges of providing efficient, safe, relatively affordable air mobility in major urban centers before next-generation aircraft come online.
In four years, Voom grew from a project inside Airbus’ innovation center in Silicon Valley, A3 or Acubed, to a multinational company, but scaling the app-based flight-booking service from Brazil to Mexico, San Francisco, and elsewhere proved a difficult hurdle, according to Monnet.
“Scaling globally isn’t easy for any business, and we found this to be especially true in an expensive industry with a truly transformative model for both Airbus and the transportation market as a whole,” Monnet wrote in a March 30 blog post announcing the closure. “Couple these truths with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and we have been faced with some hard choices, as are so many businesses today. . . . While we would have loved to continue our ambitious work, we have achieved our two major initial goals for this project.”
Voom chose as its initial launch cities three of the most populous and traffic-clogged metropolitan areas in the world. It managed to amass 150,000 total active users and fly 15,000 passengers during its relatively short period of operation. It partnered with existing Airbus-vetted third-party helicopter operators and helipads to deliver its service in those cities.
Voom’s São Paulo, Brazil, operation began in 2017, Mexico City the following year, and the company ultimately ran a network of six helipads in and around both cities. San Francisco was seen as a launchpad to establish operations elsewhere in the U.S., but Voom never chose another city in which to expand.
In its first year of operation, 60 percent of Voom customers were first-time helicopter users, “proving that we truly opened the skies to a new audience,” Monnet said.
“We achieved a 45 percent repeat customer rate and an average ticket price equivalent to 2x the cost of a private car service for 1/10th of the time, making accessible and affordable urban air transportation a reality,” he said.
That was enough to satisfy Voom’s primary goal of launching a mobile helicopter booking platform that provided Airbus with behavioral and operational data about urban air mobility (UAM) in globally representative markets.
“We learned a lot about customer preferences — booking and movement patterns, most popular routes, willingness to pay — as well as about operational challenges related to lack of infrastructure, public acceptance, on-demand versus scheduled routes, etc.,” Monnet said.
Airbus will use the data to inform decisions on the design of any future eVTOL vehicle, including the average number of passengers per flight, ideal flight time, optimum end-to-end customer experience, and expected infrastructure costs.
Monnet said he is “extremely proud” of the Voom team of employees, made up of “aviation enthusiasts who are passionate about urban air mobility” and who worked “to improve people’s lives by giving them access to urban skies.”
Making UAM a reality with eVTOL aircraft within the decade poses real and difficult challenges to the aerospace and other industries, Monnet said. Airbus continues to invest in the technologies that will be required to realize that reality, he wrote.
“This is just one chapter in urban air mobility, with so much more to come,” he said. “It is not a question of whether the UAM market will open up, but when.”