Skyportz readies vertiport infrastructure for Australian AAM as others seek entry
By Emma Kelly | September 12, 2022
Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 52 seconds.
Australian company Skyportz has identified 400 sites in the country as possible locations for vertiports once advanced air mobility (AAM) arrives in the region.
Skyportz released the design for Australia’s first vertiport at the Caribbean Park business precinct outside of the Melbourne central business district. The design was unveiled in August at the AAM Summit, organized by the Australian Association for Uncrewed Systems (AAUS).
Designed by Contreras Earl Architecture, the vertiport features a modular, pre-fabricated, aluminium monocoque structure that can be assembled in a short period of time and is lightweight and sustainable, according to Rafael Contreras, director of Contreras Earl Architecture. Interior modules will be installed in a plug-and-play approach, he said.
Skyportz worked on the design with the architect, along with the Caribbean Park business park, aviation consultancy To70 Aviation, planning and engineering firm Arup, and Australian helicopter operator Microflite, to ensure the design meets operational requirements. Microflite already operates helicopters to Caribbean Park and has commitments for up to 40 eVTOL aircraft from Eve Air Mobility.
Skyportz CEO Clem Newton-Brown said it is seeking investment partners to fund the construction of the Caribbean Park vertiport, which is expected to be the first in a network of sites around the country. With US$10 billion already invested in eVTOL aircraft development, Newton-Brown anticipates investment of hundreds of millions of dollars into infrastructure to follow in the next wave of development for the sector.
Newton-Brown said Skyportz has been doing the ground work for the last four years, identifying sites, working with aviation consultants, regulatory authorities and operators, and building a business case to attract investors. It will be ready to partner with serious investors and get the necessary approvals so that vertiport infrastructure is ready as soon as it is needed.
“We are assembling the pieces of the puzzle on a table to ensure it makes sense,” he said.
Caribbean Park is the perfect testbed, according to Newton-Brown, with helicopter operations already permitted on site.
The crucial aspect is to get a property partnership and identify sites for vertiports, Newton-Brown told delegates at the AAM Summit, with airports being “low-hanging fruit” that need to be involved in the network.
“The least difficult part is building the vertiport,” acknowledged Kevin Cox, CEO of Ferrovial Vertiports, during the summit.
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Ferrovial is looking to build a network of vertiports across the U.S. and Europe, with projects underway in Florida, the U.K. and Spain. Its first vertiport location will be in West Palm Beach, Florida, where it is in advanced conversations regarding locations and seeking approvals, he said.
Skyports, which is already active in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region in Singapore, Japan and Korea, is keen to access the Australian market.
“We are very interested in entering Australia. We have experience to bring to Australia,” said Yun Yuan Tay, head of APAC at Skyports. In Singapore, Skyports developed the first vertiport prototype as part of Volocopter’s flight trials from Marina Bay.
Since then, the company has been building the safety case and regulatory work, with the first commercial eVTOL flights planned in Singapore in 2024. Construction of the vertiport at Singapore’s Seletar Aerospace Park will start next year.
Tay said lessons from this will be applied across the region, including in Australia. Skyports is part of the Australian AAM collaborative platform Greenbird, which is seeking to advance the commercialization of AAM in Australia, and is in discussions with many local players.
“Infrastructure takes time. The end-to-end process of vertiport network design and development takes three years or longer. It’s essential to begin the process of identifying sites as soon as possible,” Tay said, pointing to the lengthy process of site selection, design, planning, construction and certification.
How a vertiport will look and feel inside must be different to airports, delegates at the summit agreed.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are tons of things we’ve learned in aviation, but we are also looking at it like a blank piece of paper,” Cox said. “It’s a different form of aviation. Passenger time-savings is the hallmark of this nascent industry. If it feels, looks and operates like an airport then we have failed.”
Security screening is the aspect that could potentially make or break AAM, according to Jane Logan, senior aviation planner at Arup.
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Cox agreed with that sentiment. “If we have the same type of security we have in airports today, we will crush this industry before it even takes off,” he said, making note of the lack of security for those getting in a taxi or train. “Our objective is to have some level of security, but nothing like you see in airports. It’s not necessary or appropriate.”
Australia will also have its own unique design requirements, particularly with one of the biggest business cases for AAM in the country likely to be connecting regions. Almost all of the work done on vertiports to date has involved urban vertiports, said Peter Smith, CEO of Barton Vale Technologies.
“We need to look at regional vertiports,” he said.