BUSINESS

In England, a new “vertiport” for drones and flying taxis gives a glimpse of the future

published Tuesday 26 April 2022 at 08:37

A prototype urban airport for drone deliveries and potentially, one day, flying taxis, saw a crate of prosecco soar into the British sky on Monday for a test flight hailed as a historian.

Air-One, an ephemeral “vertiport” for drones and future electric vehicles with vertical take-off and landing, is presented by its promoters as the first of its kind and hailed as the opening of a new era of aviation.

Located in Coventry (central England), which has long been renowned for its automotive industry, the “vertiport” will be used for a month to showcase this emerging sector.

The maiden flight symbolically lifted six bottles of sparkling wine weighing about 12 kilos from the launch pad into the air.

The drone, a Malloy Aeronautics T150 usually used for logistics by the British Army, is the largest to fly in an urban environment, according to Ricky Sandhu, founder and CEO of Urban-Air Port, the British company behind the project.

“You are in the world’s first fully operational vertiport,” he told hundreds of people, including the company’s 25 employees and government supporters.

“It’s an industry that’s taking off, sure, but it’s really starting to pick up speed,” added the company leader.

“We are all used to change … but it is the importance of change that is always underestimated and things change very quickly,” he added.

– “Ecosystem” –

Urban-Port is developing the ground infrastructure for delivery drones and air taxis planned for this decade and has spent the past year preparing for the Coventry demonstration.

The temporary site near the city’s train station aims to show how an integrated hub for aircraft can function in the density of an urban environment, illustrating how it can serve as a vertical mini-airport.

Further demonstrations are planned in the UK and beyond in the coming months, with a target of 200 sites worldwide.

The sites are designed to be easily installed and dismantled and use hydrogen fuel cells to provide “zero-emission” energy, according to the company.

The latter claims orders worth £ 65 million (€ 77 million) and projects are planned in the United States, Australia, France, Germany, Scandinavia and Southeast Asia.

Supernal, the US subsidiary of South Korean carmaker Huyndai, which is developing an autonomous flying electric vehicle capable of carrying passengers, is one of its partners.

“We are focused on building an ecosystem that allows this technology to thrive,” sales director Michael Whitaker told AFP, because “without vertiport, without a place to land, it won’t work.”

Supernal hopes to have its vehicle certified by 2024 before mass production.

“You will see operations in this decade, but I believe 2030 will truly be the decade of advanced air mobility and it will be more pervasive from there,” Whitaker said.

– FIRST AID –

In addition to the private sector, Urban-Air Port was one of 48 projects funded by a £ 300 million (€ 356 million) government fund for promising green transport projects.

The company points out that these vertiports could be used by local authorities, including emergency services, as well as logistics operators, or even the military.

West Midlands Police, the country’s second largest force covering Coventry and the surrounding area, launched some of its dozen drones from Air-One on Monday.

Mark Colwell, his drone operator, notes that their use has increased “dramatically”, from one device in 2017 to 12 now being used by specialized officers.

They are launched from patrol vehicles for various operations, search, crowd management, and current legislation requires that they remain in sight.

Such infrastructures “would be very useful”, underlined the policeman, “not only for the police”, but also for the emergency services.

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