In Australia, vertiport infrastructure startup Skyportz is leading the advanced air mobility (AAM) charge. It has already made significant progress working with the Australian government to develop regulations relating to eVTOL landing facilities.
Indeed, Skyportz CEO Clem Newton-Brown has praised the “strong leadership and forward thinking” for the AAM sector in Australia from federal agencies, such as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Airservices Australia. And because of its positive regulatory environment, Australia was Google’s choice to test its Wing delivery service.
For its part, over the last year, Skyportz has partnered with Electra.aero to investigate bringing eSTOL aircraft to Australia, first to the state of Victoria for freight transport. The company also has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Electra to purchase up to 100 eSTOLs for urban air mobility operations in Australia.
In addition, Skyportz said it is partnering with several eVTOL developers to build concepts of potential operations in Australia. The company also announced a partnership with Secure Parking to create up to 400 landing sites, mostly on top of existing parking garages.
eVTOL.com caught up with Newton-Brown to discuss these recent developments, why Australia is a hotbed for AAM, and more.
eVTOL.com: Tell us a bit about your background and how Skyportz came about. You’re a former deputy lord mayor of Melbourne and former assistant minister in the state of Victoria?
Clem Newton-Brown: Yes, my background is in politics, planning, and law. Skyportz was formed when I was working for Microflite Helicopters and we were supporting the Melbourne bid to become the Uber Air test city. While Uber Air is no more, we continue to focus on building landing infrastructure to enable AAM to fulfill its potential. We now have a range of consultants working with us to facilitate infrastructure planning. Right now, we’re not focused on actually building vertiports — although we have some clients who are taking the plunge and building in anticipation of future use — but rather, we’re focused on regulatory change and securing properties.
Nowhere in the world has any jurisdiction set out definitive rules about where vertiports will be approved — and the first jurisdiction that sets out these rules will see a massive flow of infrastructure capital.
At Skyportz, we want to make it easy for companies to decide to locate here as an initial test bed for their aircraft. We aim to have the property partnerships in place to be able activate a network of vertiports as soon as regulations allow.
eVTOL.com: You have partnered with Electra.aero to investigate bringing eSTOLs to the state of Victoria for passenger and freight transport. How do you see this playing out in the short and long term?
Clem Newton-Brown: We believe there’s great scope for eSTOL aircraft here, with our long distances and sparse population. We have partnered with Electra.aero for these longer range use cases.
The low-hanging fruit and early use cases will be existing airports and helipads — but if that’s all we end up using, AAM will not fulfill its potential. We see great potential in utilizing industrial and retail land for new vertiports for passengers, as well as for business-to-business heavy-weight drone deliveries.
With enough vertiports scattered through our cities and regions, we’ll be able to create new demand — particularly if we can get passengers right into where they want to go without the need for transferring to cars for the last mile. Many of our property partner sites are parking garages located generally where people want to go. We’ll be making some announcements soon with eVTOL partners focused around use cases, such as the Olympic Games in Brisbane and tourism.
eVTOL.com: Why is there such strong support for the AAM sector in Australia?
Clem Newton-Brown: Australian regulators are very well-respected globally and they are far more nimble and progressive than in many other parts of the world. This is why we saw Google’s Wing delivery service commence here. We are forward-leaning but at the same time, robust enough to have global credibility. Unlike other regulators being inundated with the hundreds of prototypes in development, any OEM [original equipment manufacturer] that comes to Australia will find that there is good access to decision makers and enthusiasm to become world leaders in this industry.
Our federal government is very committed to supporting the emergence of the industry, including offering a $32-million grant fund which is open to companies outside Australia to advance AAM here. Skyportz is partnering with a number of international companies in consortiums bidding for this grant funding, and this will be a good opportunity for some of these companies to get some first-hand exposure to the Australian market.
Add to this, that our state governments have incentives to attract new industries that will create jobs and you have a very positive environment here.
eVTOL.com: You’ve said that getting community acceptance in Australia hinges first on demonstrating that electric aircraft are quiet. What else will be needed?
Clem Newton-Brown: In politics, new ideas need champions who drive the agenda from the inside. However, any political support will evaporate if the community support is not there. I believe that the community will end up doing a basic equation of whether the benefits of any service outweigh any negative impacts on amenity. The lower the impact on amenity, the easier it will be to get the community acceptance.
Ideally, we want to be in a position where the community is pushing for more vertiports in more convenient locations.
eVTOL.com: How will you get to that position?
Clem Newton-Brown: It’s a chicken and egg problem. We need to have the aircraft flying commercially for the community to see and hear them, and then decide if they want this revolution in aviation to occur. If the community license is not there, that will be the end of the dream and all we will be left with is short-range quieter, greener helicopters flying existing routes.
However, we’re confident that if the aircraft are going to be as quiet and safe as claimed by the OEMs, then there will be acceptance of vertiports in new locations. It may not be landings in residential areas initially, but if we can break the link between aviation and existing airports, then we can build on this — as community acceptance grows — with new sites.
eVTOL.com: What do you see as your company’s greatest accomplishment so far?
Clem Newton-Brown: Skyportz is very different from any other company in the infrastructure space as we are focusing not on building prototypes, but on building our available property network partners so that we can go straight into construction when the time is right. We are essentially a real estate-focused company.
We’re unique in that we have released the locations of over 400 sites we have available to us in Australia and New Zealand. You can see where on our website. This has attracted a lot of interest from investors pivoting from aircraft to infrastructure investment. As we are not tied to any one particular brand of aircraft, our infrastructure will support the entire AAM industry.
We’re making it easy for an infrastructure investor to decide to build out a network in Australia as we have done — and are doing — the hard work in gathering together the property partners while at the same time engaging in the political process for regulatory change to activate these sites. This work needs to be done in every jurisdiction that aspires to being at the forefront of this industry, and we will soon be opening our model up to other regions globally with local partners.
Things are moving particularly quickly in the Gold Coast/Brisbane region of Queensland where we have established some strong links with all levels of government and manufacturing companies wanting to build aircraft locally. We also have a fantastic local operational partner in Sea World Helicopters. Skyportz is currently assisting with introductions for OEMs wishing to pitch their aircraft for future orders with Sea World Helicopters.
With the Olympics in 2032, we plan to have a mature eVTOL service in place well before then in this region.
eVTOL.com: What would you like the world to know about the future AAM sector in Australia? What will it be like compared to other global regions?
Clem Newton-Brown: In short, we are ahead of the curve. While much of the global focus of this sector is on trying to stake a claim in cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, Paris, Singapore, and London, I would say to the global AAM industry that it may be that Australia offers the best test bed for their operations in the first phase of the industry. Just ask Google how they have found using Australia for testing its drone deliveries.
If Skyportz is successful in getting the regulatory changes required to activate our sites in the near future, then we’ll be able to offer AAM services beyond existing aviation infrastructure before many of the other cities around the world with more complex urban environments.
Our short-term plan at Skyportz is to do the fine-grained work to set up our local Australian eVTOL market. There are so many pieces to this puzzle, but we have many on the table already and it is all starting to form a cohesive picture now. We expect that sometime in the next short while we will be taking on a major investor/partner to actually build out the vertiport network. Whether it’s a company that owns and operates airports or a major infrastructure developer, the work Skyportz has done to prepare the landscape will enable a speedy route to a viable operation.