Aerospace & Defence

Sustainable transport is taking off with eVTOLs

21st February 2022
Kiera Sowery

The urban air mobility market is forecasted to reach $12.7bn, and $1.5 trillion in the next 20 years. To get urban aerial mobility (UAM) up and running, eVTOL (electrical vertical take-off and landing) aircrafts must be proven safe and reliable, air traffic management has to be adapted to accommodate, and the public will need to accept them as a new mode of transport.

There are dozens of VTOLs at various staged of development around the world, and such increasing development is making the case for building a new network to support them, driving the opportunity to develop a new model for sustainable infrastructure.

What are eVTOLs?

eVTOLs are powered by electricity, and take off and land vertically in the same way as a helicopter, but fly horizontally like an airplane. Featuring almost silent electric motors or rotors, eVTOLS are technology heavy. This mode of transportation is set to improve mobility by transporting small number of people within cities, and across regions.

Europe’s first test vertiport

CEO of Skyports, Duncan Walker, explained his strategy for vertiport deployment includes connecting the dots between urban business centres and major ait travel hubs.

VoloPort, a collaboration between Skyports and Volocopter, is Europe’s first test vertiport, located at Groupe ADP’s Cergy-Pantoise Arfield in Paris. It is a huge step toward launching commercial advanced air mobility services in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Walker claims this will be a catalyst to the air taxi market.

The project is being backed by DGAC, the French Civil Aviation Authority and EASA, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. Initially, VoloPort will serve as a technology testbed to provide a safe environment for Skyports and members of the initiative to integrate and test the technologies required to enable AAM in Europe.

“Our Pontoise airfield brings together a unique ecosystem around new air mobility and the trial platform we are launching is unprecedented in Europe,” said Augustin de Romanet, Aeroports de Paris SA – Groupe ADP chairman and CEO.

It will be well equipped with technologies, including biometric identity management, re-charging equipment, situational awareness capabilities and weather stations. The data collected throughout the testing phase will be vital for the development of AAM regulatory frameworks.

eVTOL manufacturers, Volocopter, Vertical Aerospace, Airbus, eHang and Pipistrel will use the testbed to conduct test flights and demonstrations during the run up to the 2024 Olympics.

Uber Elevate

In 2020, Uber invesrted $75m in Joby Aviationm, a transportation company developing an eVTOL aircraft, intended to operate as early as 2023. It came as part of a broader transaction involving Joby’s acquisition of Uber Elevate. Joby will operate an affordable, sustainable transportation service, using its vertiport that it’s spent the last decade developing.

Urban-Air Port

Creator of drone and eVTOL aircraft vertiports, Urban-Air Port, initiated construction of what they state is the first fully-operational air transport facility in the UK.

The eVTOL and drone vertiport is based in Coventry, meaning it is close enough to London, and large northern cities including Manchester and Liverpool. This close proximity enables mid-range intra-urban eVTOL flights.

In January 2022, Urban-Air Ports announced a project to create 200 eVTOL vertiports in 65 international cities in preparation for the approaching launch of those and other AAM services. The project will be backed by Hyundai’s AAM division, Supernal.

Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce Electrical and Rolls-Royce Power Systems are aiming to lead the deployment of AAM. In February 2022, they announced they will provide charging and energy infrastructure for Luxaviation, a luxury jet and helicopter service provider’s vertiports. Rolls-Royce will provide electrification solutions, maintenance services, and digital solutions for Luxaviation’s planned network of vertiports.

The bigger picture – infrastructure

Pascall+Watson share the perspective that the provision of a public air taxi service will have the greatest benefit when integrated with existing transport hubs. These include rail stations and airports. The company is developing an ‘interchange plaza’, to act as a central point for all methods of sustainable public transport.

Pascall+Watson Director Julian Carlson said: “Air taxis and vertiports need to be part of a bigger infrastructural strategy, and architecturally we’ve looked at three key issues. We’ve looked at existing city structure, at transport architecture typologies and at how vertiports could be complementary to the existing transport infrastructure.”

Many eVTOL developers are aiming to launch by 2024, and the potential for established networks by 2030, such aircrafts represent a new zero carbon industry, requiring a new type of conducive infrastructure.

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