UAM and Infrastructure: To build or not to build

Friday August 21, 2020

While there are many pilot Urban Air Mobility (UAM) projects well underway in major cities across the globe, the infrastructure that will enable scaled adoption of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles is not yet implemented in the existing urban and suburban regions.

But what is needed for UAM mass-implementation and who is going to build it? Today, we will focus on a ground infrastructure overview.

Lilium
Lilium envisions their eVTOL aircraft harmoniously integrating into London city life. Credit: Lilium

The complexity of the task

The infrastructure that is necessary to support successful eVTOL operations combines ground infrastructure (e.g. take-off and landing pads, refuelling stations, service areas), advanced and robust Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) as well as digital infrastructure allowing seamless multi-modal mobility.

Take-off and landing pads, also known as vertiports, require careful planning to provide an effective and efficient transportation experience. Before commissioning ground infrastructure development, a comprehensive assessment of a particular region needs to be completed.

Vehicle manufacturers who know best what is needed to service their product should work closely with local authorities that will assist with vertiport integration into the existing landscape, as well as regulatory bodies to enable a safe and secure environment and scalable vehicle operations.

Humphreys & Partners
One of the prototypes for Uber Air Skyports unveiled in 2018 is inspired by a complex beehive structure. Credit: Humphreys & Partners

Companies must consider all stages of eVTOL operations including departure and approach, passenger boarding and disembarking, vehicle charging and maintenance. Additionally, there needs to be several back-up landing sites catering for potential unforeseen technical issues a vehicle might experience in flight.

It is understood that the design and development of the physical infrastructure supporting large-scale UAM services will oblige industry stakeholders to make significant investments. However, during the initial stages of eVTOL operations, developers can take advantage of the existing helicopter landing pads (helipads), car parks, rooftops etc.

Completing the puzzle

"In the future, you're going to be entering buildings in a completely different way. You're probably going to be entering from a roof, from a balcony." - Mark Dytham, Klein Dytham Architecture

To ensure the optimal societal benefit, UAM operators should position vertiports strategically to help ease congestion while not adding to the existing regional noise level, but more than anything, to enable equal access to passengers and cargo of all classes.

MVRDV
In architects’ vision, vertiports ready to accommodate City Airbus eVTOL could easily slot into the urban landscape of Sao Paulo. Credit: MVRDV

Some collaborations between vehicle manufacturers, infrastructure developers and city planners have already been set up. To give an example, the Dutch architecture studio MVRDV has collaborated with an aircraft manufacturer Airbus to investigate how vertiports can be integrated into the existing and future urban landscapes.

For both Airbus and the architecture bureau, it was important to imagine how vertiports can enhance transportation links of various cities around the globe including Shenzhen, Jakarta, Sao Paolo, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. According to the study, the aim was to connect completely contrasting parts of the region or provide a solution to where more traditional rail and road connections were not well-developed.

Another example of ongoing research into vertiport design that builds on the study of regional needs and existing infrastructure is developed by Pascall+Watson in collaboration with Swanson Aviation. In their work, organisations are looking to focus on the overall service provided by the vehicle operators as well as providing a comfortable and efficient passenger experience.

Pascall+Watson
A fully digital booking and journey management, biometric security and dynamic messaging, hospitality facilities, quick and easy service - what else to wish for? Credit: Pascall+Watson

What has already been accomplished, is the world’s first full-scale vertiport unveiled at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) 2019 World Congress in Singapore. The VoloPort was the outcome of an existing collaboration between the infrastructure developers Skyports and Volocopter, the German air taxi pioneer.

The facility was designed to not compromise on the safety and security of all involved while providing an exceptional passenger experience. Skyports believe their simple but efficient modular design can be adapted to fit rooftops, train stations, parking lots and other metropolitan locations.

Volocopter
World’s first full-scale vertiport developed in collaboration between Skyports and Volocopter is design to be adaptable to many locations and vehicle architectures. Credit: Volocopter

While there is a long road ahead, we believe it is not only the vehicle that is of significant importance and interest. All pieces of a complex UAM ecosystem puzzle should come together to enable a safe and sustainable future of vertical mobility.

What we do know, however, is that this road can not be walked alone and many stakeholders have already understood the value of partnership and collaborative effort. The further we go, the more exciting the journey is.

References

https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/future-of-mobility/evtol-elevated-future-of-mobility-summary.html

https://www.dezeen.com/2020/03/04/mvrdv-airbus-vertiports-flying-vehicle-city-report/

https://www.pascalls.co.uk/news/article/next-generation-air-mobility/

https://skyports.net/projects/volo-port/