• Government backs infrastructure for air taxis

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  • Get ready to see vertical take-off and landing aircraft in our skies soon. Known as ‘eVTOL’, the aircraft can be manned or unmanned and currently use electric power. ‘Air roads’ are planned to enable people and cargo to travel by aircraft.

    The Air-One project is set to launch in Coventry this year for future air taxis, drones, and ground-based electric transport such as cars, e-bikes, and e-scooters.

    An urban logistics drone trial launched in Liverpool in March to test its suitability.

    The Government said it is supporting the development of urban air mobility to provide improved zero-carbon transport connectivity and for the UK economy to benefit from exporting the technologies.

    eVTOLs and drones could enable urgent deliveries to arrive quickly without causing congestion or pollution and travellers and packages to reach remote communities that don’t have reliable road or rail.

    In the initial phase, each corridor will provide segregated airspace at defined altitudes for individual manned and unmanned eVTOLs. Like traditional air traffic control, the process will initially be managed by people. As the systems mature, traffic monitoring will be conducted by intelligent autonomous systems and supervised by people.

    They will be created between strategic locations, away from buildings and roads. Once the safety and environmental benefits are demonstrated, the airspace will become increasingly unified and will gradually expand to more locations to meet rising demand.

    The DfT recently granted powers to decarbonise aviation infrastructure as part of the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, to help capitalise on the opportunities drones offer while clamping down on misuse and disruption.

    How soon will we be travelling by air taxi?

    The first eVTOLs are expected to be commercialised within the next three to five years.

    Joby Aviation, the US-based aerospace start-up, plans to launch a commercial air taxi service in 2024.

    Hyundai is developing an eVTOL passenger vehicle that is planned to be commercialised by 2028.

    Cargo routes will be well-established before people are travelling by eVTOL. In April, UPS announced a deal to purchase 150 eVTOL vehicles, for delivery in 2024, to help reduce delivery times and access smaller markets.

    Which companies are involved?

    BT is working with Altitude Angel and several UK tech-startups as part of UK Research and Innovations’s Project XCelerate, which will establish the UK’s first commercial drone corridor.

    The challenge now is to design the infrastructure, or ‘Air Architecture’, that allows these passenger vehicles to fly within and between cities and towns and to manage the thousands of delivery drones anticipated in the future, with Amazon already planning to launch a UK drone delivery service.

    Urban-Air Port has announced a partnership with Altitude Angel and Safeguard Vertiports to design a world-first eVTOL hub and to create future Air Architecture for electric air taxis and autonomous logistics drones. Urban-Air Port plans to develop more than 200 sites around the world in the next five years to meet global demand.

    Ricky Sandhu, founder of Urban-Air Port, said: “Our global transport systems are broken. Inner-city transport is congested, inefficient and polluted. In remote locations, it is either non-existent or over-priced, leaving many isolated and increasing economic disparity.

    “This is a real British innovation success story – the UK can lead the world in accelerating this transport revolution.”

    Altitude Angel has developed an intuitive, cost-effective platform to digitally support the local air traffic zone. The company has already launched the world’s first commercial drone ‘test corridor’ in open and unrestricted airspace in the Thames Valley, west of London.

    Safeguard Vertiports will develop a certification programme that will meet future Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations for safe operational turnarounds.

    Delivering vaccines in record time

    Urban-Air Port has also partnered with SkyFarer, the drone logistics operations and software company, and Coventry University, to demonstrate medical drone deliveries on the Air Architecture. The project partners will demonstrate the technologies that could fly vaccines or medicines to healthcare professionals and patients in record time.

    Elliot Parnham, Founder and CEO at SkyFarer, said: “Healthcare is a sector where drones can make a significant impact. Medical drones are an environmentally friendly, fast and intelligent way of getting the necessary supplies to those that need it most.”

    Value to the UK economy

    The global VTOL and drone market is estimated to be up to $2.9trn (£2.17trn) by 2040, according to Morgan Stanley. In the US, NASA predicts urban air mobility could be worth up to $500bn (£375bn) in the near-term.