Cities of the future, where air taxis and drones populate the skies

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Vertiports are set to open soon in some cities, despite the fact that eVTOL air taxis and drone parcel services are just starting to develop. Several companies are working on the development of eVTOLs, which are electric vehicles capable of vertical takeoff and landing. Some of these eVTOLs are intended for personal use, serving as a futuristic type of air car, while the majority are envisioned as a flying alternative to taxis to bypass traffic congestion or as a means to deliver parcels quickly instead of carrying passengers.

Vehicles that fall under the category of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) or Urban Air Mobility (UAM) system have a shared characteristic in that they offer a new approach to accessing cities and towns. They have the potential to fundamentally change the transportation infrastructure for passengers and packages in urban areas by adding a third dimension. However, for the system to be effective, it must be smoothly integrated into the existing and often congested transportation network.

Even though the era of eVTOL air taxiing has not officially begun, some companies have already obtained airworthiness certificates for their vehicles. Many are planning to initiate the first phase of services between 2024-2025. Drone delivery of goods is already underway in certain cities.

Despite numerous questions that need to be addressed, such as how operators will manage the substantial increase in energy demand from electric aviation and how they will make the aircraft quiet enough to not disturb overhead traffic, one crucial aspect that needs to be addressed is the identification of appropriate take-off and landing locations.

The potential for door-to-door transport is one of the main advantages of eVTOLs, but to fully realize this capability, the vehicles need to be able to stop anywhere to pick up and drop off passengers or parcels. The compact size and reduced noise level of eVTOLs compared to helicopters potentially enable true door-to-door travel. However, if a significant number of people start using these vehicles, the airspace could become just as congested as the roads.

Utilizing existing airports for shared use could also be a viable solution, however, this option also has limitations as airports are situated outside of cities, while air taxis would primarily operate within urban areas. Another possibility is utilizing helipads, however, there are insufficient numbers of them. Alternatively, the roofs of buildings could be converted into launching pads, but this would necessitate modifications to ensure sufficient power supply.

An increasingly popular solution is the construction of vertiports, specially designed for eVTOLs and, just like airports, train stations and major bus terminals, represent a transport hub where not only vehicles depart/land and new passengers are picked up, but also act as a kind of centre. Here, passengers can conveniently wait for the vehicle they have ordered, the loading and unloading of cargo would be simplified and the depleted batteries of air vehicles could be quickly replaced, even automatically, and the unused units recharged.

To ensure that the system does not place too much strain on the city grid, alternative energy sources could be used on site, for example by covering the facility with solar panels.

Coventry

Urban-Air Port has opened the first Vertiport, Air One, in Coventry, UK. Although it was not a permanent airport, it was a demonstration model that provided a glimpse of how eVTOL airports will function in the future. The Vertiport was designed, constructed, and built by Urban-Air Port in collaboration with Coventry University in just 15 months.

Urban-Air Port
Urban-Air Port

According to Mike Whitaker, head of Supernal, which is supporting the project, the center will significantly enhance investor confidence in eVTOL transportation and showcase how it can transform the mobility system for city residents.

Volatus Infrastructure

The first permanent Vertiport is almost here. Volatus Infrastructure is set to complete its first eVTOL airport station in the United States this year, although it will be a basic version of the planned high-traffic interchanges. The airport will be located at Bellefonte Airport in Pennsylvania, rather than in a city center, and will initially have a single landing and refueling point. It will later be expanded to accommodate eight or more seats as needed, and its modular design allows for it to be built at other locations within four weeks of obtaining permits. Users will be able to access the station through the Volatus App, which displays information on available landing bays and charging locations for vehicles.

AirNova

AirNova, another Vertiport network, has plans to build stations for eVTOLs and drones in France. Although they are expected to start construction later than Volatus Infrastructure, they have an ambitious goal of opening 20 vertiports annually in areas with high demand for air taxi services.

AirNova is in the process of identifying potential sites and securing funds to launch the project, but it is uncertain when their first station will be established. However, as there is currently no licensed air taxi service in France, there is still room for the development of the necessary infrastructure. The vertiports and vertihubs (hubs) will be located on tall buildings’ roofs or on the ground and will provide landing facilities for unmanned vehicles as well.

Siemens

Siemens, in partnership with Skyway, is working towards the future infrastructure for advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles with a focus on vertiports. They are prioritizing energy efficiency and will assess the energy usage and sustainability of the vertiports they design. These vertiports will have universal charging stations to accommodate a variety of drones and eVTOLs.

Ferrovial

Ferrovial’s plans for a network of eVTOL airports in Florida and the UK aim to provide a seamless door-to-door transport experience for passengers. The company plans to locate the vertihubs as close as possible to busy city centers, in dedicated stations, rather than on rooftops.

The hubs will be equipped with charging stations and will serve a wide range of eVTOLs from multiple companies. These plans highlight the efforts being made by companies to develop the infrastructure for eVTOL air transport and to provide a sustainable, efficient, and convenient mode of transportation for passengers.

Parcel delivery by air

Arriving at Vertiport in eVTOL air taxis, or flying from these stations to the garage in cars, watching traffic jams from a great height, may be a vision of the future for city dwellers, but the plans on show suggest that it won’t be long before it becomes a reality.

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