COVENTRY, UK – A pop-up city port for delivery drones – and one day, potentially flying taxis – was launched in Britain on Monday, lifting a box of prosecco for a brief celebratory test flight hailed as revolutionary.
Air-One, a so-called “vertiport” for drones and future vertically taking off and landing electric vehicles, has been heralded as the first of its kind by developers and heralding a new era of futuristic low-emission air travel.
Based in Coventry, a former car factory in central England, the site will be used for a month to showcase the booming industry.
The maiden flight symbolically lifted the box of six bottles of sparkling wine, weighing around 12 kilograms, from the launch pad.
According to Ricky Sandhu, founder and executive chairman of Urban-Air Port, the commercial drone used – Malloy Aeronautics’ T150, on loan from its day-to-day logistics job for the British Army – is the largest to have ever flown in an environment also urban. the British company behind the vertiport business.
“You are in the world’s first fully operational vertiport,” he told hundreds of guests, including the start-up’s 25 staff and UK government funders.
“It’s an industry in its infancy, of course, but it’s now starting to pick up real speed,” Sandhu added. “We’re all used to change…but it’s the pace of change that we always underestimate, and things change very quickly.”
– ‘Ecosystem’ –
Urban-Air Port is developing ground infrastructure for autonomous delivery drones and air taxis planned for the end of this decade, and has spent the last year preparing its showcase in Coventry.
The temporary Air-One site near the city’s train station aims to show how an integrated hub for devices can work in a crowded urban environment, while illustrating how it can act as a mini-airport for possible vertical travel.
It plans similar demonstrations at other UK and global sites in the coming months and is targeting over 200 such sites globally.
They’re designed to be easily assembled and disassembled, and use on-site hydrogen fuel cells for what the company calls “zero emissions generation.”
The company says it has orders worth £65million and projects are planned in the US, Australia, France, Germany, Scandinavia and South East Asia.
Supernal, the American subsidiary of the South Korean car giant Hyundai which is developing a concept of an autonomous flying electric vehicle that will carry passengers, is one of its partners.
“We are focused on building the ecosystem to allow this new technology to thrive,” chief commercial officer Michael Whitaker told AFP.
“Without vertiports, without places to land, it won’t be a business.”
Supernal aims to have its eight-rotor all-electric vehicle concept, which is on display at Air-One, certified by 2024 before beginning mass production.
“You’ll see some operations this decade, but I think the 2030s will really be the decade of advanced air mobility, and you’ll really start to see that being more pervasive from that point on,” Whitaker said.
– First Responders –
Alongside the private sector, Urban-Air Port was one of 48 projects funded by a UK government’s £300m ‘future flight challenge’, which matches funds with promising projects supporting the transition to more efficient transport. ecological.
The firm points out that its vertiports could be used by local authorities, including emergency workers, as well as logistics operators and even the military.
West Midlands Police – Britain’s second largest force, responsible for Coventry and the wider region – launched some of its twelve drones from Air-One on Monday.
Inspector Mark Colwell, his senior officer for drones, noted that their use had increased “significantly” from one device in 2017 to the 12 currently operated by a team of 50 specially trained officers.
He said they are currently launched from patrol vehicles for a variety of purposes, from searches to crowd control, and regulations require them to stay in line of sight with the drone.
But Colwell expects changes in the rules as the sector transforms and welcomes developments like vertiports.
“I think that would be very useful,” he said before displaying the largest drone of his force, worth £20,000.
“This type of installation…could be a help not only for the police, but also for the fire brigade, the ambulance services, (the) local authorities.”
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