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SkyDrive: From Japan to South Carolina!

by | May 26, 2023

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s an eVTOL – an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and it is coming to the United States by way of South Carolina.

The aircraft will be manufactured by SkyDrive, a leading eVTOL manufacturer headquartered in Toyota, Japan. “Our company plans to enter the U.S. market to establish our home base and develop an advanced air mobility ecosystem in South Carolina,” said William Fugate, SkyDrive’s U.S. Business Development Manager, in a recent interview.

SkyDrive’s decision to launch its U.S. business in South Carolina is quite a story to tell, and although William Fugate might not be Superman, he’s a pretty close second! Fugate, an American who has spent the last lived 30 years living in Japan, says

“I’m really good at understanding the Japanese mentality and perspective, but also at the same time understanding the Western perspective. As a business developer, I am good at bridging that gap.”

While in Japan, he was working with companies within the Toyota umbrella, and a friend told him about an innovative new company called SkyDrive. “I like bringing new high-tech businesses to market. The company wanted to enter the U.S. market with new technology, and I knew it was going to be exciting but very challenging. After interviewing with the founder and CEO, Tomohiro Fukuzawa, Fugate joined the company just as COVID was ending in February of 2022.

He immediately went to work in his search to find the right fit for SkyDrive’s entry into the United States. After exploring many possible locations around the country, Fugate was invited to South Carolina by John O’Toole, Executive Director and Charlie Stone, Senior Project Manager of the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation. For many reasons, he and the company soon realized that South Carolina was going to be just the right place for its U.S. launch. “With this climate, we can fly year-around, airports are close to city centers, there is a robust manufacturing supply chain, and this state is a significant player in both the commercial and military aviation industries, including aerospace dynamos Lockheed Martin and Boeing.” But it could be said that it was our Southern Hospitality that sealed the deal – from The BCEDC staff’s warmth and passion for economic development to a home-cooked dinner at Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray’s home.

For the past year, Fugate says that SkyDrive’s focus has been on working with South Carolina to study practical use cases utilizing their eVTOL aircraft originating from several of the state’s major airports. Frank Murray, Director of Planning at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, recently stated, “We are really looking forward to working with SkyDrive and pioneering new possibilities together as we share a common vision of taking the lead in this once- in- a- century mobility revolution.” In addition, Airport Director of the Greenville Downtown Airport James Stephens said, “We believe that the impact of advanced air mobility in Greenville will create a new form of transportation that eventually becomes part of the normal transportation processes within our community and around the world.”

The eVTOL will be a form of “air taxi” service, with a pilot and perhaps one or two passengers having a reserved appointment for short hops, traveling maybe 10 miles or so, taking off and landing from small landing pads. The initial aircraft, the SD05 model, will be manufactured in Japan. “That being said, a large percentage of our suppliers are U.S. suppliers, so we’re buying components from the U.S. and having them shipped overseas. The goal is that as we establish our presence here in the U.S. and add future models, we begin exploring opportunities that we might have here in South Carolina when it comes to manufacturing. However, the major revenue will come from the use of the aircraft, not necessarily the manufacturing of it. For example, Boeing generates way more revenue from the utilization of its aircraft than it does from the creation of it,” said Fugate.

As the SkyDrive story evolves, the first eVTOL will be flying in Japanese airspace by 2025 and in the United States by 2026. From what Fugate says, “Our electric flying aircraft will be a very quiet ‘people’ mover, not a ‘product’ mover. This technology will absolutely transform the way in which the state moves.”

This is not the end of the story but just the beginning!