By Treena Hein

Treena Hein is an award-winning technology, science, and business writer based in Ontario, Canada. She has almost two decades’ experience in outstanding content creation, and prefers to write about emerging technologies, how technologies and industries have evolved, and the intersection of technology with public perceptions, regulatory issues, and other factors.

q-and-a

Aeroporti di Roma’s Giovanni Cavallaro on vertiport networks in Italy and France by 2024

By 2024, vertiport networks will begin operation in both Italy and France. That’s the goal of Urban Blue, a company consisting of several airports in Italy (Rome, Venice, and Bologna) and one in France (Cote d’Azur) which has partnerships with Germany-based eVTOL developer Volocopter and Atlantia, an infrastructure investment holding company.

Volocopter VoloCity Rome
Aeroporti di Roma is working with eVTOL developers, such as Volocopter, to design its vertiport operations to accommodate all eVTOL aircraft. Nikolay Kazakov Photo

Rome is one of the first cities in Europe to commit to bringing urban air mobility (UAM) to its citizens and those who visit the city for both business and pleasure. Its Aeroporti di Roma consists of two sites, Leonardo da Vinci International Airport at Fiumicino, and the Giovan Battista Pastine Airport at Ciampino.

We asked Giovanni Cavallaro, vice president of strategic planning and regulatory at Aeroporti di Roma, how Rome has positioned itself in taking the lead in the development of UAM infrastructure in mainland Europe, and for a progress report on vertiport development in Rome and beyond.  

eVTOL.com: What’s the overall approach being taken by Aeroporti di Roma to building vertiport networks?

Giovanni Cavallaro: We raised a lot of interest from other airports in Europe and also municipalities about the feasibility of launching air taxi services. So, we decided to create a new company, Urban Blue, where most of the shares are owned by Aeroporti di Roma. We launched Urban Blue and announced the partnership with Volocopter in October 2021.

Aeroporti di Roma is also working closely with Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC), ENAV, an Italian company owned by the Ministry of Economy and Finances and managed by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, and all other pertinent authorities in Italy and also the European regulators. We are participating in several task forces in the process of drafting the rules. We are also creating an ecosystem of partners for every aspect of vertiport construction and operation. Partners are very important. What we create in Rome will be easily replicated in other cities, first Nice, Venice, and Bologna.

eVTOL.com: Why these cities, besides the fact that they are very popular tourist destinations?

Giovanni Cavallaro: We start in these locations because weather is very important for visibility and these places have good weather. They are also close to the sea. Sea routes have minimum obstacles and are already established. For example, the trip from Nice to Monte Carlo was the first helicopter route in Europe. These routes are easy to replicate for eVTOLs. 

eVTOL.com: Although you are working with Volocopter, you are planning to design your vertiports for all eVTOL aircraft?

Giovanni Cavallaro: Yes. We are working with several OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and with all the strategic stakeholders to strengthen our proposition and be ready to deploy vertiports which will accommodate all the aircraft that will be certified in the next few years.

We started to work with Volocopter and we are very close with them, and we are starting to work with other manufacturers in terms of planning vertiport operation. We are discussing their requirements, such as some will be replacing charged batteries for drained ones when needed, and some will have the batteries stay in the eVTOL for charging.

eVTOL.com: Will the various forms of ground transportation to and from Aeroporti di Roma (bus, train, subway, vehicles) need to change much with the coming addition of vertiports?

Giovanni Cavallaro: No. We’re working to make sure of this with an integrated strategy. There will be more rail added, but this was already part of a wider plan to support intermodality and improve the accessibility of our airports.

Giovanni Cavallaro
Giovanni Cavallaro, vice president of strategic planning and regulatory at Aeroporti di Roma, said the company is ensuring its planned vertiport will integrate with existing transportation modes. Aeroporti di Roma Image

eVTOL.com: You have adequate land area to create vertiports at both Rome airports? What about the other cities?

Giovanni Cavallaro: Yes. Fiumicino has lots of land around it and we are also planning to build more runways there for commercial flights. At Ciampino, we also have room to expand and at the airports in Venice and Nice, there is already land dedicated to the vertiports. We will also have emergency landing areas along the planned routes.

eVTOL.com: What about electricity requirements?

Giovanni Cavallaro: We’ve already identified some downtown sites that have the power that we need, but it will become more of a complicated issue at other sites. It’s going to be challenging for Rome and other cities to provide the electricity needed to charge the coming number of electric cars, so I believe we’ll see a lot of change to provide this.  

eVTOL.com: How are these vertiports being funded? In your view, should they have some public investment or should it be private investment only?

Giovanni Cavallaro: This is a good question. This is of course a risky business and we are working to have government funding at the national level because having public funds reduces the risk a bit. But of course, private investment is needed. Italy and France are really standing apart in how much support there is. What we’re observing in Europe is a rush for countries to be pioneers in this sector, but you have to put public money in this sector to make it happen.

eVTOL.com: What is the state of public support?

Giovanni Cavallaro: We believe most people in Italy, and Europe also, are in support of this new kind of mobility. It’s recognized by the community as a very safe mode of transport but also very sustainable, fitting within the EU [European Union] and national targets. With our infrastructure in Rome, our aim is to have 100% electricity generation and zero emissions by 2030. For the rest of Italy, what I’m observing is the same intention to go in our direction but probably at a lower speed. We have built excitement and support by displaying, for example, Volocopter’s VoloCity eVTOL air taxi at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport last fall. There will be more displays in future.

eVTOL.com: What is your view about how equitable access for UAM will play out?

Giovanni Cavallaro: An air taxi ride in the first phase of use will attract demand that’s not price-sensitive. We first want to connect the airports in Rome with the city center, and we are acquiring sites in the center at transportation hubs. We also want to serve other towns close to Rome to have access to the airport, and that will be popular. We believe in the first phase, it will be business travellers, and it will increase Rome as a business destination to have fast transport from the airport to downtown.

There will be limits to air traffic volumes in Rome, Nice, and Venice, and there are limits to eVTOL range. We believe the capacity will be filled very soon after launch.

In the second phase, the cost of will come down for two reasons. One is evolution of the technology. Also, having no pilot and one more passenger will mean the unit cost of a ride will decrease.

eVTOL.com: What motivates you personally every day?

Giovanni Cavallaro: There is so much interest from manufacturers, other airports, and companies that want to provide services and that’s exciting. And every day, there is something new to learn. In a nutshell, we are shaping this new sector. We entered into this business because there was a missing part of the value chain — ground operations. There are many manufacturers, but we must have ground operation.

But while it’s exciting, we also have a lot of responsibility. We’re very aware that we are in between the regulators, the OEMs, and all the other players, and we need to select the right partners. We are a leader and it’s exciting to push and grow this business, but it’s also pressing us to have results very soon and to do everything right.

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