Australia-based urban air mobility (UAM) ground infrastructure specialist Skyportz and planning group Arup are jointly developing specifications to support property developers wanting to prepare their buildings to be used for eVTOL aircraft operations. Ahead of the aircraft being approved for commercial use, Skyportz is encouraging clients to develop rooftop landing facilities that, in the meantime, could be used for other functions such as roof gardens, cafes, lounges or sporting facilities.
During 2020, Skyportz is working on the approval process developing the facilities and building political support for trial operations of both unmanned cargo drones and passenger-carrying eVTOL aircraft in a non-urban environment. The company sees its home city of Melbourne as a potential early adopter of urban air mobility taxi services and is trying to encourage an eVTOL developer to establish a presence in Australia.
Skyportz was founded in November 2018 by Clem Newton-Brown, a lawyer with extensive experience in commercial real estate developments who previously served as a member of the Victoria state parliament. Arup has worked on developing Uber’s planned Skyports facilities, which are expected to be used for the rideshare group’s own air taxi program that is provisionally set to begin operations in Dallas during 2023.
“Our view is that anyone developing a new building now needs to play to future proof it for the urban aerial revolution,” Newton-Brown told FutureFlight. Skyportz is developing our network of sites first in Melbourne and we are also licensing our IP and brand globally. Discussions are well advanced with partners in other countries who are keen to leverage off the work we are doing in Australia.”
According to Skyportz, it is in discussions with several eVTOL aircraft developers who are not among the eight manufacturers so far selected by Uber for its planned network. It expects the facilities it helps to develop to be available for use by a variety of different aircraft and air taxi booking platforms.
The company is already working with various Australian government agencies to help support the development of public policy and regulations to prepare the way for eVTOL operations. In discussions with the country’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority, it is providing examples of property development sites that have expressed an interest in establishing Skyportz facilities. It has also established an air taxi infrastructure advisory group to support regulators and government officials.
“The whole world is breaking new ground here and there is much work still to do. The planning regulations simply do not currently allow the development of a Skyportz network to support UAM,” said Newton-Brown. “It is currently almost impossible to get a permit for a new heliport in an urban area. For the whole ecosystem to take off we need to show that eVTOLs are different from helicopters to get regulations changed. We need to show that as they are quieter and lighter than helicopters they can seamlessly integrate into the urban environment with little amenity impact.”
According to Skyportz, Melbourne is well placed to be an early adopter of eVTOL air taxi services. “We have a supportive government, a stable electricity grid, flat topography, benign weather and a globally respected air regulator in CASA. We are also the only city in Australia where you can land a helicopter in the central business district. For over 50 years our helipad has operated and it provides an instant Skyportz as soon as we have certified eVTOLs.”
Newton-Brown told FutureFlight that both Australia’s federal government and the Victoria state government support the idea of eVTOL development in Melbourne. However, he acknowledged that city officials are less keen on the plans. In his view, eVTOL pioneers need to establish a “social license” for this new mode of transportation by demonstrating that the benefits to society will outweigh any perceived negative factors.