This is what flying car ports should look like

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Imagine you are developing airport before the invention of airplanes. This is what Ricky Sandhu and Urban-Air Port did in May in the English city of Coventry, setting up one of the world’s first vertiports for so-called air taxis. The building, complete with waiting room and café, was built and demolished again years before such vehicles were ready to pick up passengers.

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For a month in Coventry’s central car park, thousands of visitors wandered around Air One, Urban-Air Port’s 1,700 square meter modular pop-up building. In many ways, it resembled any other transport hub, except for the take-off platform that towered above its roof. Although some services worked and worked, including cafes, only delivery drones took off. Hyundai Supernal eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing).

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The goal was not to prove that air taxis are the future of urban transport. This is the work of companies such as Joby, Lilium and Supernal, all of which have aircraft for functional testing and undergo regulatory certification. Instead, Urban-Air Port was demonstrating a key piece of infrastructure, as well as figuring out how to squeeze in retail space and make getting passengers on and off as easy as possible. And that includes how long passengers have to queue to get a latte. “We thought the cafe would be too big,” says Sandhu. “But it was just the right size.”

Contrary to the dreams of flying cars, eVTOLs will initially and probably never land on the street in front of your house. It will disrupt traffic, be dangerous and noisy. First, most eVTOL designs are simply too big.Lilium Jet has a wingspan of 14 meters, which is 2 meters wider than a standard single-lane road. Instead, to catch an “air taxi,” passengers will have to travel to a local heliport, which can be located above train stations, office buildings, or even float in the water.

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Finding out exactly what these buildings will need is not easy. Urban-Air worked with Coventry University on a virtual reality model to test the space before spending 11 weeks building the Air One. eVTOL companies, including German air taxi startup Volokopter, have also released their own visions of what a vertiport might include, usually with glossy computer renders of glistening white living rooms atop skyscrapers. Such structures may look futuristic, but they are likely to be a logistical nightmare as queues, boarding and reloading on the 70th floor are much more difficult than on solid ground.

Paul Hermans, an airport planner at design and engineering consultancy Arup, worked with Urban-Air Port and Volocopter to develop the helicopter’s design. His starting point for building for vehicles that don’t yet fly and a market that doesn’t exist yet is simple: start with regulation. Any aviation port will be just as heavily regulated as an airport or heliport, so studying the regulations for both can help determine the requirements of a helipad; In addition, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued draft rules for vertiports, so sticking to this document is a good starting point.

On the technical side, any vertiport has several basic physical requirements: a stable electrical network for quick recharging, a maintenance hangar and a system for moving vehicles into it, as well as sufficient space around the runway for aircraft to maneuver. While Urban-Air Port’s design includes a moving platform to lift vehicles onto the building’s roof, Hermans explains that helicopters will require less clearance than helicopters, which land much less vertically than many of us realize. as the name suggests, they actually take off vertically. “This allows you to start integrating them into your helicopter design into much denser urban environments where helicopters might not work,” says Hermans.

While computer renderings of vertiports often place them on the rooftops of buildings, this would require passengers to have access to an elevator to the top, and many building managers would be reluctant to let random people inside. Tower roofs also often house construction equipment such as hoists and air conditioning ducts, leaving a relatively small footprint for a vertiport. Of course, this may be suitable for a single vehicle, but a financially viable vertiport will likely require space for multiple vehicles.

While some wealthy private companies may offer their employees air taxi rides as a perk, Hermans predicts that public vertiports are likely to be located on the top floors of buildings such as car parks, which is why Sandhu spent three weeks in the Coventry car park. the station. “The challenge is to get the planes to compact and dense locations,” he says, “and most importantly, as close to other transportation infrastructure as possible.

There is another reason why lower vertiports have advantages: they take less time to land. Urban-Air has placed its OneAir port in a car park next to the train station to make it easier and faster to access. If it were on the roof of the building, passengers would increase their travel time. On the other hand, the more centrally located vertiports and the lower they are to the ground, the higher the risk of accidents and noise.

This is the physical side of vertiports. As for the passenger, it’s not clear whether the security will be the same as at airports or train stations, and reducing queues and time-consuming checks matters to a market that relies on fast travel. “If you spend 10 minutes checking security for a flight that’s only five minutes long, that’s not good,” says Hermans.

Of course, airports are needed not only for travel – whether you like it or not, but also for shopping. To decide how to make the best use of available space, Urban-Air Port worked with Qatar Airways duty-free experts to design the retail space. “The key was that the brands were showcasing some of their products in a very small area,” says Sandhu.

It might seem like it’s too early to set up a space for lattes and retail—after all, none of the eVTOLs have yet been approved by regulators, let alone mass produced. But the industry needs to start looking at infrastructure before air taxis are ready to fly. “If you’re making a plane, you don’t have to worry about where it’s going to fly,” says Sergio Cecutta of transport analytics firm SMG Consulting. “We don’t want to get into a catch-22 situation where there are no vehicles, which means no infrastructure. We need to do it at the same time.”

And getting the timing right is not an easy task, as flying car start-ups constantly miss their own deadlines. Right now, even airplanes undergoing testing cannot enter production without regulatory approval, making a strong promise of air taxi service by 2024 in the hands of the US Federal Aviation Administration and EASA.

SMG Consulting is monitoring vehicle development, rating Joby and Volocopter as “highly likely” to meet the deadline; many of the other two dozen contestants on his list are not as credible. SMG also monitors infrastructure readiness, but none of the five companies it follows are expected to open a port before 2024. In short, in 2024 either a lot or nothing will happen. “In 2021, people realized that eVTOLS is real,” Secutta says. “So in 2022 we will understand that we need to start building things.”

In addition, the advantage of eVTOLs is that they can land almost anywhere – anywhere a helicopter can, of course. Thus, instead of rushing to install vertiports, operators can use the existing aviation infrastructure. Lilium vice chairman Alex Asseily says the company is already considering how its electric aircraft can fly routes in Florida with partner NetJets. This could include, as an example, he says, a route connecting West Palm Beach Airport to an existing city heliport. “We can land on a standard helipad. The only thing you will need to add to it is a charger,” he says.

All the Lilium Jet really needs is a “parking spot” and a charger to land on, suggesting that setting up full vertiports for every destination early on might not be necessary. “What we’re trying to do is not be limited so that we don’t have to invest huge sums on the first day,” Asseily says. “None of these infrastructures take a long time to build – building a concrete slab that a supercharged plane can land on is not easy, but fast.”


Credit: www.wired.com /

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