Munich Airport’s Ivonne Kuger on the Air Mobility Initiative and the strategy behind vertiport development

Avatar for Eiman SuenakaBy Eiman Suenaka | July 29, 2022

Estimated reading time 11 minutes, 1 seconds.

Editor’s note: In the second installment of a three-part series on the Air Mobility Initiative (AMI) in Germany, wanted to dive deeper into the strategy behind vertiport development, as well as the work that is being done to establish a vertiport prototype as part of the AMI. In our first article, we interviewed Markus May, head of operations for urban air mobility (UAM) at Airbus, who talked about the initiative and why it was created.

As a partner of the Airbus-led AMI, Munich Airport (MUC) is an international hub airport and the second busiest (behind Frankfurt Airport) in Germany. The 30-year-old airport has seen around 48 million people travelling through its ground operations and infrastructure.

Munich Airport, one of the partners of the Airbus-led Air Mobility Initiative in Germany, is working to establish a vertiport prototype for the group to test what processes are needed on the ground to carry out urban air mobility. Airbus Image

Ivonne Kuger is the executive vice president of corporate development for Munich Airport International, a subsidiary of Munich Airport for global airport services. With nearly 20 years of aviation experience, Kuger helped expand the service portfolio of Munich Airport, covering the entire lifecycle of airport infrastructure and operations. spoke to Kuger about the work Munich Airport is carrying out when it comes to establishing UAM operations in Germany.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. What vertiport locations are you exploring through the AMI, and why has the group chosen those locations?

Ivonne Kuger: We are looking at having one or more vertiports at Munich Airport. We are working on creating an infrastructure that is vendor agnostic, easily scalable, and safe with a high level of passenger convenience. 

Another destination that we are looking into is the City of Munich, which is 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Munich Airport, because the largest quantity of commuting commercial passengers travel to and from there. The Munich Expo Center could be such a location for example. In the region of Upper Bavaria, we have several cities with adjacent smaller airfields that could also be used as vertiports, such as Ingolstadt with Manching Airport nearby. 

They are limited in scale, but they have the basics in place to become a part of the urban air mobility project. One of these options would be a great first location for vertiport development. Is Urban-Air Port a possible partnership for the AMI?

Ivonne Kuger: At Munich Airport, we have been partnering with Urban-Air Port since 2021. Air-One is the first operational vertiport worldwide. Munich Airport has been working with Urban-Air Port’s CEO Ricky Sandhu, along with his colleagues, in developing the operational concept for the vertiport infrastructure.

Whether it is suitable for the AMI is something that will have to be discussed with our wider network of partners. We are pleased to see that it was funded by the Future Flight Challenge under the U.K. government. Also, for the first time in history, Supernal (a private enterprise), which is part of the Hyundai Motor Group, funded ground infrastructure for Urban-Air Port’s planned vertiport network. Will these vertiports developed through the AMI be used exclusively for Airbus operations, or will they be accessible to other eVTOL aircraft?

Ivonne Kuger Munich Airport
Ivonne Kuger, executive vice president of corporate development for Munich Airport International, said that similar to an airport, the vertiports developed through the AMI will be vendor neutral and vendor agnostic. Munich Airport International Image

Ivonne Kuger: Similar to an airport, the vertiports will be vendor neutral and vendor agnostic. There are hundreds of OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] competing for the market, and as a ground operator, we have to be able to accommodate the major typologies and flying concepts that are currently being developed. We look at the maximum sizes and maximum requirements to make sure that we can offer a good solution. Common use is a key point in the airport infrastructure. Since these vertiports would have to accommodate all vehicles, will the OEMs have to standardize their charging and recharging capabilities?

Ivonne Kuger: Yes, that is going to be one of our biggest challenges. We are working with institutions in Europe to standardize technologies. Some OEMs will need to swap batteries, while others will need to charge batteries while mounted in the vehicle. These are two completely different concepts. If they need to swap batteries, there will be a need to create an available storage space that complies with fire safety standards. If the eVTOL is parked and needs to charge, it may take approximately 30 minutes. We need to take these different operating models into account in our planning. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) released its technical design specifications for vertiports in March. What are your thoughts on these design specs, and will the group have any challenges in meeting these guidelines?

Ivonne Kuger: Guidelines are necessary to plan for ground infrastructure. We are in favor of EASA and the FAA [U.S. Federal Aviation Administration], along with other civil authorities, working together to create regulations and guidelines. Munich Airport is proud to be part of the task force that is working with EASA on the design specs for prototype vertiports, and we’re glad it is now out for public feedback. The specifications are designed from the basis of helipads and helicopter operations standards. Regulations are expanding to meet the new technologies and new eVTOL vehicles.

We joined the AMI to raise awareness and encourage the authorities and regulatory bodies to work together to drive this industry forward. What other challenges does the group need to overcome in terms of vertiport development?

Ivonne Kuger: We need to have a commercial business in order for stakeholders to invest millions of euros in vertiport development. The costs that are incurred have to be offset with revenues from landing fees, parking fees, as well as retail, food and beverage sales, in the vertiport environment.

Another challenge is developing a centralized operator of services to provide passengers a gateway to buy their tickets, and other travel-related requests. These are issues that need to be addressed in order to create a business case for stakeholders. Is there anything else that you would like to share that we have not covered?

Ivonne Kuger: We are calling on the government and authorities to support us. We see a lot of progress in advanced air mobility in the U.S. and Eastern Asia where people tend to be more curious and less risk averse.

Bavaria and Germany as a whole have a good startup scene and are putting in the effort to progress urban air mobility. We want to realize this in Europe with the support of the government. Public funding initiatives are a good way to provide support. 

We’re also calling for governments to increase investments in alternative energy. The source of renewable energy is required, and the investment in education, universities and research institutions will be fundamental to the success of this industry. 

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