If you’ve been paying attention to developments in the eVTOL industry, you’ve likely come across the term vertiports. It’s not the most difficult concept to understand, but it’s worth investigating further to see what it really means.
So, in this article, we’ll look at what we mean by vertiports, what they do, and how they’ll work.
What are Vertiports?
Vertiports are simply airports for eVTOLs, which take off and land vertically, hence the “verti” prefix. They’re for eVTOLs what heliports are for helicopters, and airports are for aeroplanes.
However, vertiports will be so much more than a landing spot for eVTOLs. Current developers intend to sell an experience as much as a convenience, partly to drum up hype for the coming eVTOL revolution.
Components of Vertiports
Most vertiports will be a mix between an airport’s first-class lounge and an urban bus terminal. While this might not sound like the most appealing concept, it’s the easiest way to explain both their function and design.
Within the standard vertiport model, there’ll be some universal design features. These include:
eVTOLs run on batteries, so will need charging. Manufacturers have different plans for how to do this, but it’ll either be replacing dead batteries between flights or plugging the eVTOL into a port, much as we do with electric cars.
Either way, vertiports will need large-scale charging facilities. Again, there’s no set way to achieve this, but one popular idea is to use solar panels, which can sit on the roof. You can check out this video for a concept design of what this’ll look like.
Some vertiports might be hooked up to a city’s power grid, but they’ll be incredibly energy-intensive. As such, it might become standard for them to generate and manage their own power.
If you look at any concept art for vertiports, you’ll see they’re pretty high-end. Customer experience will be a major driver behind interior design elements, most of which will be incredibly modern and comfort-focused.
Ideally, passengers won’t have to wait too long for their eVTOL. But if they do, vertiport managers want it to be the best experience possible. Think comfy chairs, convenience facilities, and most likely a coffee shop or two.
We don’t have much information on how customers will book eVTOLs into vertiports. It could be that they stand and wait, as we do in bus stations. Alternatively, it could be an extension of the ride-hailing platform eVTOLs will use elsewhere.
Most companies plan to adopt an Uber-style model, where customers use an app to book an eVTOL, which arrives autonomously and takes them on their journey. We could see this in vertiports, too, although it could be transferred to large static touchscreens instead.
Urban and Suburban Vertiports
We’ve previously discussed the difference between urban and long-range eVTOLs. Unsurprisingly, the design elements feed into how vertiports will work, too. While their basic function will remain the same, where they are and how many eVTOLs they can support will differ.
Urban eVTOL vertiports are an exciting concept because of how adaptable they’ll need to be. Some will simply sit on the ground in a city, whereas others will be more inventive.
Skyports, one of the leading vertiport designers, already has plans for the former. In late 2021, it bought a heliport near London’s Canary Wharf, its financial district. Helicopters already use the space, so it has an open area for takeoff. As such, it won’t take much adaptation for eVTOLs.
But other companies are being a bit more inventive with their designs. An American parking real estate developer, REEF Technology, teamed up with eVTOL designer Archer Aviation to build vertiports on top of parking garages. It echoes a similar move by Joby Aviation.
The plan will be to build vertiports on top of parking garages, so customers can commute to the outskirts of a city in their car and then get in an eVTOL. Building them on a parking garage roof will change things, particularly their size and weight limits.
Suburban and Rural Vertiports
Suburban eVTOL vertiports will be less restricted with space, which is good because long-range eVTOLs will need more room to take off. They’ll likely also include car parking or connections to other public transport, such as buses or trains.
Overall, there’s nothing revolutionary to say about suburban vertiports. They’ll simply be larger, more open versions of their urban counterparts. We’ll probably see them form as a cross between a train station, bus terminal, and small-scale airport.
When Will We See the First Vertiport?
Technically, we’ve already seen a vertiport, although it was just a full-scale concept design. Skyports built one in Singapore in 2019, but it was only open for a week and didn’t run any flights. Its purpose was to drum up media attention, which it certainly did.
However, we should see vertiports starting to pop up in major cities between 2022 and 2024. The UK is getting its very first Skyport (another name for a vertiport) in late 2022 in Coventry. It’s being built by Urban-Air Port Limited and Hyundai to be a test facility to understand how eVTOLs will work in practice.
Skyports is currently building a working vertiport in Paris ahead of its launch at the 2024 Olympics. The current vertiport isn’t the one it’ll use during the Olympics, though.
It’s building a test concept at Cergy-Pontoise Airfield near Paris alongside Groupe ADP, a French airport operator. The site will allow it to test the feasibility of launching a large-scale eVTOL network across the city, which is being run by Volocopter.
Importantly, the test sites in Paris, Coventry and, eventually, LA will help vertiport designers see how the structures will work in the real world. Until now, everything has been lab experiments and theory, so it’s a vital step forward.
Vertiports are a fundamental part of the wider eVTOL infrastructure. Like bus terminals and train stations, they’ll be uniquely designed to support a specific type of vehicle. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how different companies come up with their own concepts for customer experience.