As eVTOL programs advance, more attention is being paid to the infrastructure that will support these novel aircraft. Notwithstanding Uber’s grand visions for multi-story “Skyports,” a growing number of urban air mobility (UAM) players are exploring more modest and versatile vertiport designs. Lilium, for example, recently eschewed visions that “wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi movie” in favor of lean, modular vertiports that could enable rapid scaling of a regional air mobility network.
At last year’s Global Urban Air Summit in Farnborough, UK, eVTOL.com caught up with Ricky Sandhu, the founder and CEO of small. | Six Miles Across London and Urban-Air Port Ltd. An architect who spent over 15 years with Foster + Partners before striking out on his own, Sandhu was one of the first people to present a fully realized vision for a compact, rapidly deployable eVTOL vertiport. Sandhu’s Urban-Air Port has a lightweight, modular, flat-pack structure, making it suitable not only for space-constrained urban environments, but also for rural communities where eVTOL aircraft could “leapfrog” the need for costly investments in highways and rail lines.
Recently, Urban-Air Port and Hyundai announced a partnership to explore “new, purpose-built, multi-functional, and scalable infrastructure to enable UAM.” Hyundai plans to invest $1.5 billion over the next five years to create an air vehicle and the supporting mobility ecosystem for UAM operations, and infrastructure is a key part of that. According to Hyundai Air Mobility chief operating officer Pamela Cohn, “There is often a strong focus on the vehicles, but without coordination and investment in other parts of the ecosystem, UAM is just a flying science project. Infrastructure is one of the crucial areas of the broader ecosystem that will bring aerial mobility to communities around the world.”
Hyundai Air Mobility and Urban-Air Port said they plan to invest in development of a full-scale prototype for live eVTOL demonstrations. Two cities in the UK have reportedly already signed on to support development in 2021, including Coventry in the West Midlands, which will host UK City of Culture 2021 and the Commonwealth Games.
According to a press release, “Hyundai’s and Urban-Air Port’s goals in this partnership are fully aligned — transforming cities for the better by creating a versatile infrastructure that enables future mobility, vitalizes urban communities, and expands access to transportation services and the green economy.”