California-based eVTOL developer Wisk Aero and U.K. infrastructure company Skyports have teamed up to look at how vertiports and other ground infrastructure need to be designed to support future autonomous eVTOL operations.
The companies released a concept of operations (CONOPS) today that paints a picture of how autonomous advanced air mobility (AAM) infrastructure operations may look.
Wisk and Skyports said AAM companies generally “recognize that autonomy is the key to unlocking the scalability, accessibility, and affordability needed to realize the full potential and total addressable market of AAM.”
Aerospace companies such as Airbus and its CityAirbus NextGen are actively designing its piloted eVTOL to be able to transition to autonomy later on. And on the other side of the world, Chinese-based EHang has plans to launch autonomous passenger services later this year, after its EH216 is type-certified by Chinese aviation authorities.
With plans to go straight to market with autonomous operations, Gary Gysin, CEO of Wisk, said its CONOPs with Skyports helps define “future operations while ensuring the long-term success and full potential of this industry.”
The companies call the document the first of its kind in North America, which looks beyond building vertiports for piloted air taxi services and considers what needs to be integrated to support future autonomous operations.
“It’s important that infrastructure built today can accommodate the aircraft of tomorrow,” said Duncan Walker, CEO of Skyports. “The CONOPs and our continued work on the development of vehicle-agnostic vertiports and ground-based infrastructure will ensure that this industry is well prepared to safely integrate autonomous operations in the future.”
The document examines the passenger’s journey on an autonomous flight, and the necessary systems and interactions between the aircraft, its fleet operators, and the vertiport.
It explores the physical aircraft requirements, passenger accommodation, schedule management, navigational aids, and airspace design, among other issues. And it also outlines the upgrades, retrofits, and procedure changes that might be needed for vertiports that are initially intended to host piloted eVTOL flights to accommodate future autonomous operations.
Backed by Boeing and Kitty Hawk, Wisk is currently developing its sixth-generation eVTOL aircraft — the model that the company plans to get type-certified with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The company hasn’t set a target date for certification, with executives previously stating that those timelines would be largely up to U.S. regulators to define.
Earlier this year, the eVTOL developer announced a partnership with the Long Beach Economic Partnership (LBEP) to explore autonomous air taxi services, suggesting California could be one of the first regions in North America to introduce autonomous flight.
Meanwhile, U.K.-based Skyports has forged partnerships with various AAM companies around the world, including Los Angeles, Italy, Malaysia, and the U.K., to develop infrastructure for future eVTOL operations. The company recently secured new investors and raised US$23 million in its Series B funding round that would be used to develop vertiports.