With every innovative idea that the world has witnessed, there came an opportunity to unite people who have a common interest and a vision to make a difference.
At the Swiss Institute for Disruptive Innovation, we observe new trends and potential disrupting sectors that will significantly impact at the micro and macro levels, both for businesses and governments.
Nowadays, the future of transportation is rapidly evolving. We are experiencing it with the electric transition of cars, electric scooters and bikes as micro-mobility and the first tourist space travel.
Today, we had the pleasure of talking about the next generation of urban mobility with Walle.
Our aim is always to give wings to a community that opens doors for new players and sustains companies that can dare to think out of the box.
We caught up with the CEO of Walle, Francesco Ventre, to know more about the emerging sector of flying shuttles.
Tell us what Walle is about & the 3 main goals you want to achieve by 2030
Walle is going to be the first operator in Italy of low-environmental-impact flying shuttles to transport goods and people.
Walle’s short-term objective is to introduce Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) in Italy, building a network of take-off and landing platforms (vertiports).
The Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicles are the pillar technology to build this ecosystem.
Walle has worldwide partnerships with VTOL manufacturers to enable medium and long-range travel.
In 2024 Walle is going to connect logistic facilities, transporting up to 180 kg payload.
Then, we will apply a similar model to the transport of people by 2026.
Tell us more about short-range air mobility, and why it will disrupt the future?
Using the Walle service, you can get to your destination without getting stuck in the city traffic for a long time. This means that the introduction of Advanced Air Mobility will lead to faster trips and save the amount of stress!
Moreover, introducing this new mobility system will lead to opportunities for tourists to exploit islands connection and breathtaking sightseeing experiences.
For what concerns goods, fast point-to-point connections are particularly relevant for the B2B business, both for private companies and logistic hubs, to connect their facilities and with cargo airports.
How did the idea come from? what was the turning point? Who is behind this startup?
The idea came from a daily life event: a missed flight.
So, I started thinking about improving the way we move across cities, finding in the VTOL vehicles the best match.
I then shared the idea with the actual team, which I believe to be the first asset of a startup. In our case the founders have a very diverse background that includes Business (Andrea Ferrante), Operations (Marco Pugliese), Technology (G.Parissenti, F.Ventre, C.Buonagura), Legal (A.Lazzari) and Marketing (A.Tessera). We are also about to make public our advisory board, made of professionals in the aerospace and mobility sectors.
How will your service work? Are they self-driven or piloted from the ground?
Our service will be based on three kinds of missions:
- Airport air-shuttle
- Connection between nearby cities
For the cargo, the service will be customized based on the needs of the client. Vehicles will most likely take off and land on reserved spots in the neighbourhood of the logistic facility.
Customers will purchase their ticket to fly from a vertiport to another through an app or website for the passenger service. Moreover, they will complete their journey through unified access, including fees for additional transport means, thanks to Walle’s partners from the transport domain.
In the beginning, cargo missions will be remotely piloted, while passenger transport service will happen thanks to a pilot on board. Our final objective is to have a safe, interconnected and autonomous fleet of VTOLs.
What are the challenges you faced or will face that you would have liked to know before starting?
One of the most challenging things is represented by the relations with investors,
Luckily, the paradigm is changing, and more VC and business angels are growing their interest in visionary ideas and technologies.
I believe that experience plays a pivotal role in building the right skills to advance in the Business domain. It’s essential, to have mentors or more experienced people that can guide you in the decisional process. Also, when I started, I had a poor experience as a manager, so it was crucial to practice the way I relate with others.
Compared to a subway or railway line, are there economic advantages in travelling by air-shuttle?
An air-shuttle service will have a price between 2 and 3 Euros per passenger per km flown, so at the beginning, Walle will target business people, managers, entrepreneurs, and people that can afford the cost. Still, we expect the service to become more democratic and ideally competitive with other low-cost solutions in the long term.
If we think about municipalities, in addition to the end-user, there is also a significant economic value in reducing congestion and carbon emission. On top of it, some urban areas can be re-valued thanks to the service by building vertiports.
Looking at today’s situation what is the degree of adoption of flying shuttles? How soon can Walle be operational?
Walle‘s project involves an entire ecosystem of stakeholders: aviation authorities, municipalities, airports, and private companies.
There is a positive attitude toward collaboration which can reduce the go-to-market. We anyway depend upon the legislation, which in Europe is encouraging, because EASA has promised to complete the regulations in 2024.
On the technical side, we have in place agreements with different manufacturers having a solid roadmap. Launching a cargo service in 2024 is not a dream, while passengers should probably wait until the Winter Olympic Games Milano-Cortina in 2026.
EASA in January 2021 has provided new regulations on UAS.
Do you think these new regulations will facilitate the adoption of flying shuttles on roads and city centers?
Even if common sense concludes that air-shuttles will connect point A to point B through a direct (shorter) route, it does not work this way.
We will have to design corridors that respect the other flying operators and minimize any risk of an accident. As a consequence, air-shuttles will fly preferably over canals, rivers, highways, and railways.
We don’t expect any vertiport will be ever built in the medieval downtown of many Italian towns, but just a few kilometres away.
From the regulatory point of view, EASA is taking initiatives for round tables to discuss the urgent need for laws to enable this new economy of AAM. However, it is remarkable that Walle’s vehicles for the passenger transport fleet (Jaunt ROSA) are already certifiable to fly over Europe.
For today’s knowledge, how do you feel the competition with other players look like?
The market potential is vast, so that competitors will come in at some point. The fact that some potential operators are studying the actual feasibility of the service is positive. It means that our vision is “visionary” but can be transformed into reality.
Which international partners are you currently working with?
We have recently disclosed our collaboration with D3 Technologies (Germany) and have a long history of cooperation with AIRIO (US) on the Air Traffic Management side. Moreover, as mentioned, we are also creating a network here in Italy. We are part of the Skygate initiative and Federated innovation members in MIND
A key issue in aerospace is safety. Despite countless cautionary regulations to follow in design and operations, and with many statistical findings, some people remain sceptical about flight safety.
If you met one of these people what would you tell them about it?
The main element that could worry the public opinion is the aircraft since a possible accident would involve the people on board and the unsuspecting citizens on the ground.
National and international regulatory bodies (EASA – FAA) have set themselves to certify only aircraft capable of demonstrating a degree of safety equal to or higher than the one required for commercial aviation.
In other words, a vertical taxi will have the same chances of failure as an Airbus A320. If I met a sceptical person, I would ask him if he worries that that same plane could have a fatal breakdown when he takes a plane to go on vacation.
Advanced Air Mobility is starting to make its way, and it has been deduced that future passengers perceive the problem of in-flight safety as marginal. It almost seems that public opinion takes vertical taxis for granted will be safe.
Who is Francesco Ventre outside Walle? What would be your advice to your peers who want to pursue an entrepreneurial life?
I am a master’s student in Space Engineering at Politecnico di Milano, currently completing his thesis about particles dynamics around binary asteroids with the University of Liverpool. At the end of 2020, I founded with two peers the first space association of Politecnico di Milano, PoliSpace, which is also an association with the School of Disruption
I am also an alumnus of International Space University. I love to watch crime series, go out with friends, and listen to music in my spare time.
Entrepreneurial life is not easy and requires a lot of sacrifices. I would suggest that, before starting such activity, you talk with more expert people about your idea and listen to their advice. It might seem a straightforward suggestion, but the development path strongly depends on the problem it solves, and a more expert person might know what is best for you.