Australian helicopter operator Microflite has started laying plans to operate electric aircraft, partnering with ground infrastructure group Skyportz to kick-start the development of advanced air mobility (AAM) in the country.
Microflite currently operates 19 helicopters, including eight Airbus AS350 twin-engined models, four EC120 singles, four EC130s, an AS355, and a Bell 212. From its headquarters in Victoria state, it provides charter flights and various types of aerial work such as photography, as well as aircraft maintenance and helipad management.
“We intend to be at the forefront of the industry as it morphs into cleaner and quieter electric propulsion,” said Microflite general manager Rod Higgins. “We can foresee that many of our tourist operations will be very well suited to electric aviation.”
The companies intend to evaluate multiple new electric aircraft types as they progress through the type certification process and are prepared to commence commercial operations. Skyportz is working with property owners to establish networks of landing sites from which eVTOL and eSTOL aircraft can operate.
“Microflite operates a range of different aircraft and we intend to be at the forefront of the industry as it morphs into cleaner and quieter electric propulsion,” Higgins added. “We can foresee that many of our tourist operations will be very well suited to electric aviation. Microflite and Skyportz are focusing on these bottlenecks and creating the ecosystem which will attract aircraft manufacturers that want to enter the Australian market.”
The two firms are already assisting several air taxi start-ups to establish an AAM concept of operations for Australia. They will jointly offer ground infrastructure and maintenance support.
Skyportz has been working on plans to establish AAM ground infrastructure in Australian cities since 2018 when the Uber Elevate network first identified Melbourne as a potential early adopter location. The company is also involved in efforts by the Australian Association of Unmanned Systems (AAUS) to support authorities in establishing regulations and standards for the new mode of transportation.
To support its efforts to establish networks of vertiports, Skyportz has just launched a crowdfunding offer. It is backed by a group of specialist companies, including Nexa Capital Partners, Arup, Taz Drones, Electro Aero (charging facilities), Safe Helidecks, Hatch Roberts Day (planning and design), Flame Developments (aircraft operations), To70 (airspace design), and Parking Australia.
“Aircraft development to support advanced air mobility is well underway, but its potential will only be fully leveraged if the supporting ground infrastructure hosting takeoff and landing facilities are in place,” said Skyportz founder and CEO Clem Newtown-Brown. “At Skyportz we are assembling the infrastructure backbone to make Australia even more attractive for innovative aircraft builders looking for a place to trial real-world use cases. We look forward to introducing electric aircraft manufacturers to our property, freight, and logistics partners and getting on with developing some viable applications for their aircraft.”
Newton-Brown is a former member of the Victoria state legislature and deputy lord mayor of Melbourne. He is also chair of AAUS’s AAM working group as well as a member of a NASA working group and an Australian federal government committee investigating new aviation technologies.
This week, on September 1 and 2, the Australian Association for Unmanned Systems is holding its 2021 Advanced Air Mobility Summit in Melbourne. This will bring together industry and government leaders, as well as a variety of stakeholders.