A pop-up airport for electric aircraft could transform city travel


This picture shows how the plant in Coventry, England, could one day be put into operation.

From bike sharing programs and hydrogen buses to app-based driving services that can be booked using a smartphone, mobility in the city is changing.

As governments around the world seek to retire diesel and gasoline vehicles in favor of low-emission and zero-emission options, the infrastructure needed to keep our cities moving must also change.

For example, new plug-in charging systems will be a crucial tool in reducing fears of range and ensuring that electric vehicle users can be charged when needed.

Roads that have long been reserved for cars only need to be adapted and modified to accommodate an increase in bicycle traffic, and people walking to and from their destinations also need to be catered for, be it via wider sidewalks or pedestrianized areas.

Other ideas about the future of urban transport focus on the skies over our streets.

In late January, it was announced that an urban air mobility project had received £ 1.2 million (US $ 1.65 million) from the Future Flight Challenge from UK Research and Innovation, a government-backed program.

The idea behind the Urban Air Port concept, called Air One, is to develop a “pop-up” airport and charging center that will be used by electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL). This applies to vehicles such as delivery drones and air taxis.

According to Urban Air Port, development will start this year in the English city of Coventry. The company plans to set up 200 similar locations around the world over the next five years.

Other organizations involved in the initiative planned for Coventry include the City Council and the Hyundai Motor Group. In addition to its involvement in the Coventry project, Hyundai is also developing its own eVTOL and intends to commercialize the technology by 2028.

In other countries, smaller companies like Lilium are working on similar offers. The German-based company announced last month that it had signed an agreement with infrastructure giant Ferrovial to develop at least ten “Vertiports” in the US

In a statement at the time, Lilium stressed the importance of these hubs, stating that they provide “infrastructure for landing, charging and taking off with passengers”.

Big changes are coming, but challenges are ahead

To some, the idea that airborne electric drones and air taxis will become crucial gears in future transportation systems may seem strange. How big could the role they could play?

“In the long term, they will ultimately be an important part of the overall mobility ecosystem as they have the potential to solve the congestion problems caused by our current two-dimensional transportation network,” said Andrew Hart, director at SBD Automotive, told CNBC via email.

Hart said such vehicles would remain “relatively niche” for the next 10 to 20 years, covering certain segments like luxury or certain use cases like agriculture and logistics.

The major challenges early movers would face related to infrastructure and what he referred to as the “nascent legal structure” that would likely delay homologation, a term related to formal approval.

Regarding the infrastructure required to make vehicles such as air taxis viable in cities, Hart said they would need “well-planned mobility hubs” that allow “efficient arrivals and departures” to prevent local congestion.

“Various proposals have been made for different types of urban and rural areas, including converting the top floor of parking garages and using small aerodromes on the outskirts of cities,” he added, noting the problems associated with charging infrastructure would also be “large in the short term.” Headache “.

The proof-of-concept project in Coventry, Hart said, is “an interesting activity to highlight and address many of the practical challenges of introducing air taxis.”