Drop Zone

Preview image of “Drop Zone”
  • Lilium’s air taxi
  • Source: Lilium, Volocopter, Urban-Air Port
A model of the Urban-Air Port

The first airport for autonomous flying aircraft is being built in England.

It has long been a dream for the flying industry, but now air taxis have finally made the leap from science fiction to reality after the successful completion of the first manned test routes. More and more interested parties are jumping on board; Boeing, Airbus, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Uber and Deutsche Bahn have all invested in vertical passenger transport.

Urban-Air Port, a UK-based start-up, is offering an insight into what an air taxi airport could look like with Air-One, the world’s first fully operational pop-up airport. The structure, made of steel and aluminium, is encased in an expandable, translucent fabric, and is scheduled to open in the centre of Coventry before the end of 2022. The interior of the vertiport will feature a modern passenger lounge, security checks, restaurants and shops. Stationary retailers will be replaced by interactive screens and virtual and augmented reality. A specially designed app will offer access to all brands and products with efficient deliveries possible by drone.

According to Urban-Air Port, the airport’s outdoor facilities are designed as modular hubs that can be housed in a compact area. They provide off-grid charging and servicing possibilities for any type of eVTOL aircraft or drone, including electric cars, buses and e-scooters. The airport will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, and the environmental footprint will be up to 60% smaller than a traditional helipad. The modular design means the structure can be deployed quickly to remote rural areas, and could, for example, provide emergency relief for natural disasters.

A Volocopter terminal

Urban-Air Port has secured investment from Supernal, the newly formed Urban Air Mobility Division of the South Korean car manufacturer, Hyundai. Together, they aim to build 65 landing facilities for eVTOL aircraft, drones and other electric vehicles in the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific. “Urban air mobility will be integral to how we get from A to B this century” said Pamela Cohn, Chief Operating Officer and US General Manager for the UAM division of the Hyundai Motor Group.

In total, more than 200 companies worldwide are currently engaged in the research and development of autonomous air transport services. eVTOL (Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing) providers all make similar promises: congestion relief, reduced travel times, and decarbonization of passenger and freight transport in urban areas. When it comes to the implementation of mobility concepts however, there is less of a consensus. Electric vertical aircraft designs include cars, helicopters and drones and differ drastically in terms of their range of flight, passenger capacity and unmanned flight capability.

Experts from the EU Aviation Safety Agency, EASA estimate the urban air mobility market in Europe to be €4.2 billion, providing around 90,000 potential jobs by 2030. The agency says it expects to certify the first air taxis by 2024. Germany has also set its sights on becoming one of the major players in the eVTOL sector and hopes to open up urban airspace for commercial use. The federal and state governments have assisted progress in the aviation sector for many years by providing financial support. Two German companies, Lilium, a start-up from Munich, and Volocopter from Karlsruhe, have already made a name for themselves on the international scene and have secured millions of dollars of investment, well into triple figures.

Germany’s most financially stable aircraft company, Lilium plans to have inhouse jets in operation at airports in Munich, Nuremberg, Düsseldorf and Cologne/Bonn by 2025. Brazilian airline, Azul has already placed an order for 220 units worth one billion euros. Daimler subsidiary Volocopter, on the other hand, recently landed a coup with the city-state of Singapore, where the VoloCity air taxi is to be introduced by 2024 as an extension of public transport. Singapore hopes to act as an inspiration for other Asian cities to follow. In Europe, Paris has expressed interest in using Volocopter taxis to operate between airports and venues in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The Volocopter is already fit for service