Estimated reading time 12 minutes, 54 seconds.
Seven months — that’s the length of time the advanced air mobility (AAM) industry has left to get infrastructure in place for the first expected U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approvals of eVTOL aircraft, said Grant Fisk, co-founder of Wisconsin-based AAM infrastructure development firm Volatus Infrastructure.
Volatus is taking a low-cost, modular and flexible approach to vertiport construction, and seems to stand apart in its aim to make vertiports affordable and quick to construct in communities in the U.S. and beyond.
Its first project — what it claims will be the first permanent eVTOL vertiport in the Americas — is under construction at Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which also happens to be home to the largest airshow in the country, as well as home to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).
However, this is only one of many Volatus projects in the works. Since the company publicly announced its approach to AAM infrastructure in early April, it has received an incredible level of interest.
We caught up with Fisk to discuss why interest in his company is so high, what it will take to get the AAM industry ready for fast-approaching eVTOL regulatory approval, and more.
eVTOL.com: Since you announced to the public what you’re offering to the AAM industry, just how much interest have you had?
Grant Fisk: It’s been an explosion. We are in discussions for numerous vertiport projects in the U.S. and will be announcing these in the coming months. I can tell you that one of them is with an airport in Pennsylvania that’s nearby to a football stadium, where they want a vertiport at the airport and one also right at the stadium.
We also have many orders for our charging stations, but we can’t ship anything until FAA regulations for eVTOLs and vertiports are in place.
We also have strong interest from Europe and we’re working with an experienced real estate development group in South America. There are various governments in South America that want to be ready with vertiports already built so that tourists can take an eVTOL from the main airport to a vacation area, allowing them to arrive at their final vacation destination very quickly and also enjoy the view along the way in a state-of-the-art aircraft. It will be a tourism draw in the countries that offer it.
eVTOL.com: Why are people knocking on your door?
Grant Fisk: Airports, municipalities, and private companies need a vertiport solution that’s affordable and can be ready quickly. That’s what we offer. FAA approval of eVTOLs and vertiports is on track for Q1 2023. We are in touch with the FAA regularly to discuss how regulations for vertiports are advancing. We are also a member, along with the FAA, of the Advanced Air Mobility Supply Chain Working Group led by NASA. So, I can say with some confidence that eVTOL vehicles will be legal in about seven or eight months. The eVTOL industry is not some far off future thing. It’s now. People want to be ready.
eVTOL.com: Tell us about your approach to vertiport infrastructure.
Grant Fisk: Some time ago, I started thinking about what it would take for the eVTOL industry to succeed. It will only be successful if there is the ecosystem to support it. The ecosystem has to be large and that means it has to be affordable. Vertiports are going to need to be everywhere.
We looked at the minimum that’s needed for a vertiport, for an eVTOL to land and charge, for passengers to be processed. What’s the most efficient, affordable way to do this? We started with the price point of $500,000 — that was before the war in Ukraine — and asked, what we can create for that? Because at that price, almost any municipality can afford it.
Our vertiport is a landing pad, rapid charging system (with solar options) and a miniature airport terminal that comes in the form of a modular building in three sizes. Each one has flight check-in, washrooms and snacks. It can be placed on the ground or on top of a building or parking garage. Some airports will use their own building for eVTOL flights, but can contract us for the landing pads and chargers. But at some airports, there’s no room for another terminal and they’ll need a building as well. And most airports have fixed hours of operation, and eVTOLs will be flying outside those typical hours, so using the main airport building won’t be desirable.
Our buildings are modular, constructed at our manufacturing site and will be shipped to locations such as KOSH. Our first one at KOSH will be the smallest size, about 360 to 400 square feet. Our vertiport is scalable in that you can make the building larger or add more buildings, more pads and chargers. Our vertiports will be constructed in about four weeks after building delivery.
The buildings and charging stations will all be built in northeast Wisconsin, using U.S. materials except for motherboards and a few other items.
eVTOL.com: Tell us about the vertiport to be located at KOSH.
Grant Fisk: It’s very much a community project. Community leaders and airport administrators are partnering with us. At this point, I can’t talk about the leaders who are involved, but it’s a unique project, and it’s really an opportunity to put a spotlight on the community. It’s a unicorn, because all, or the vast majority, of our other vertiports going forward will be completely different. They will be owned and operated by private companies and this is a community project.
eVTOL.com: How did the project come about? Did you initiate discussions with airport leadership first? Perhaps also invited the mayor of Oshkosh? What was your vision and what reception did you get initially to your vision?
Grant Fisk: We made a list of communities to reach out to first and of course, Oshkosh was on that list. We reached out to the community development department first and they suggested the airport. They then facilitated the introduction and the EAA wasn’t far behind. The response to the idea was overwhelmingly positive, really chomping-at-the-bit overwhelmingly positive, in fact. They very quickly and clearly grasped what we were looking to do and have been fantastic to deal with.
eVTOL.com: Why will you be first to build the world’s first commercial vertiport?
Grant Fisk: We don’t know that we’ll be first [in the world], and indeed, we cannot call what we are building a vertiport at KOSH until the FAA has released its regulations on vertiports and we ensure we meet those. But we feel confident that once the regulations are released, we will be able to announce we have America’s first vertiport very shortly after.
We think demand for our vertiports will continue to be very strong because we’re more aggressively priced, we’re modular and we offer rapid construction of about four weeks once the building is delivered on site. We seem to be the only vertiport developer that is dedicated to being vehicle-agnostic.
eVTOL.com: How many vertiports do you expect to construct this year, in preparation for Q1 2023? What about in 2023?
Grant Fisk: We do not have a set number in mind. The goal is to be in a position to quickly and efficiently expand with the industry need. Now, that could be 1,000 miles per hour [1,610 kilometers per hour] right out of the gate, or it could be a more relaxed pace. Regardless of what it is, we will be ready.
eVTOL.com: What’s most exciting about this journey for you?
Grant Fisk: What’s great about this is the opportunity to be part of something with this big of an impact. Being able to create, that’s really exciting. Also, the opportunity to educate. This is shining a light on the importance of infrastructure in general, not just eVTOL infrastructure. How important are the roads, the sidewalks, the bridges, the sewer systems, etc.? You really come away with an appreciation of how important it all is to our daily lives.