HLS.Today – Below is an interview of Ricky Sandhu the founder of Urban-Air Port by Aerospace Testing International, which was conducted during the opening of the company’s first vertiport, Urban-Air One.
The vertiport in Coventry, UK on April 27, 2022 is a modular building that was built in weeks and features a take-off and landing area that rises around 6m above ground level. Urban Air-One is first being used to test drone operations such as delivery, logistics and police surveillance before being used to test eVTOL aircraft in the future.
My name is Ricky Sandhu, founder and executive chairman of urban airport limited. My background is architecture, so I spent a lot of time working on complex buildings, future cities, tall towers and my last project was actually an airport in Qatar.
At the same time I was doing an inner city redevelopment in Sweden and so I guess urban airport is kind of a mixture of those two things aviation and kind of urban cities and so we’re bringing aviation infrastructure into the center of cities and that’s going to be really important if we want advanced air mobility and urban air mobility to actually be viable and sustainable.
So where we are right now in the middle of Coventry City center half a million people live and work here every day we’re 60 seconds from the mainland railway station and we’re 60 seconds from Coventry City center itself and on Monday here on our launch day we had the inaugural flight of the largest drone which has a payload of 150 pounds which is about 70 kg take off safely fly safely and land safely.
In such a built-up setting that’s the first time that’s ever happened anywhere in the world and that happened in an urban airport so that’s what we’re here to do. We don’t make drones, we don’t fly drones, we just kind of provide the infrastructure to charge them, maintain them, load them and then give them a safe departure and then bring them back safely as well.
Could you just explain to me why the platform moves up and down in the way it does? What are the benefits of that? Why have you done that?
Yes our aircraft carrier is the largest aircraft carrier on shore in the world, we have a split technology so when we have smaller cargo drones we use the smaller fata one if you have a slightly larger cargo drain like the Malloy Aeronautics t650, that can carry 300 kilograms that’s you me probably three times, we use fata two and for this air taxi which is the passenger air taxi this would use fata 3 which is the whole thing. So that’s a novel way of allowing these kinds of vehicles to take off.
The reason why we have it as an aircraft carrier is because as a passenger we want you to feel comfortable hence all of our investment in the air taxi lines with the urban airport cafe. So when you are super relaxed and you feel kind of you know I’ve had a croissant and I’ve had a coffee. I’ve even done a bit of shopping. We don’t want you to come up some stairs and go to the top of a windy blustery rainy rooftop so we want you to board in a comfortable manner.
Like you do when you go to the train station, like you do when you go to a normal airport as well and so you board at grade right that makes sense. Also the vehicle needs to be charged and we’re standing next to one of our chargers here.
Needs to be charged at grade we can’t charge it you know six meters in the air and so it’s best for the vehicle it’s best for the passenger and then when the pilot and the passenger is all ready to go, we then get the signal from the pilot, we then move the vehicle up to its take-off position, which is elevated here about six meters, and the reason why we do that is because the pilot then has perfect 360 visibility.
What do you think will be the kind of first markets that verticals will be used for and how large and important do you think those are from opportunity?
The supernal vehicle here so their kind of timeline is 2028 they’re in no hurry, they’re backed by Hyundai Motor ?Group obviously, it’s there it’s their Evita brand. But there are other VTOL companies like vertical aerospace. They were all here yesterday, and they’re aiming for 2024. Vola cops in Germany aiming for 2024-25 so we’re in 2022 so it’s two years out and if those vehicles successfully reach their certification that’s great but they won’t be able to you know provide a service unless there’s the infrastructure in place and our job is to pave the way for them and build a ground infrastructure where they can charge where they can maintain where you can board book a ticket and build the industry from the ground up.
You know it’s it’s it’s amazing right i mean we’ve had thousands of people already we’ve only in day three and what I’m really excited about is actually we had VIP days on Monday Tuesday and today um but starting tomorrow Thursday is our first public day and we’re sold out for Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday.
So we’re gonna have to put more slots on but that is awesome because it means the public are genuinely interested and part of our mission has always been we spend a lot of time, effort and money on PR and marketing because there’s no point innovating and going too far ahead if you leave the consumer behind.
So we’ve been kind of you know telling everyone what we’re doing and bringing everyone in and we want people to leave here. You know, having had an awesome experience and got close to an air taxi which people have not done before in a city. But then you know they’ve had a coffee they’ve had a croissant they’ve used a smart vending machine they’ve checked out some cool gear and then they go home and and they kind of say yeah you know it was kind of cool i kind of yeah there’s normal boarding process you know and so that’s our goal.
I think that will have a big impact on how people perceive aviation. You know, sometimes it’s had a very negative perception of the aviation industry but actually it can really be sustainable and I think you know the way that we’ve even designed the infrastructure here designed for assembly design for disassembly.
Which means none of this is going to get wasted and this will always be in service whether it’s in Coventry or whether it’s in another country or another city this will always be in service and that means you know we’ve designed it to last.
If you can fly from here in two years in one of those to London in 25 minutes, yeah that’s going to save you over half an hour of time and time is our biggest investment that we can make as individuals. So let’s get the country being more productive not sitting in traffic um yeah and actually you know lead the way.
Just quickly one final question. I mean it’s important I think that this isn’t just a tourist attraction. Is there some serious research going on here as well?
We’ve got Coventry University here, the national transport design center but we’ve got west midlands police have set up a shop in our logistics sub and they are you know they’re so excited because they’re moving from dogs to drones.
They’ve just done another drone flight where they’re demonstrating their camera technologies and how they’re helping us to, you know, helping us all remain safe and Westminster’s police force is the second largest police force in the UK. So the fact that they’re here adds a lot of you know comfort I think to us all and so they’re using this as a hub for their future kind of police operations which is all again helping us remain safe.
There’s a lot of research going on as well we’ve had all the leading VTOL here from across the world to understand how we can charge their vehicle how the CONOPS works in terms of how the vehicle interacts with the infrastructure and so that kind of coming together of an industry here is super important for us all to move the industry forward otherwise there isn’t an industry we just talk about it and as you said there’s just renderings but now we’re getting it done.
This document specifies the requirements for vertiport operations (e.g. removal of contaminants, noise) and interface with an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft operators and with UAS traffic management (UTM) service providers (SPs).
Applicable to operations of vertiports belonging to any type, supporting:
- a) demonstration of compliance with applicable regulations of vertiport operations to aviation authorities or other public authorities, as a possible acceptable means of compliance (AMC), when applicable regulations require such involvement from the authority and when the authority considers this document acceptable;
- b) attestation of compliance of vertiport operations by qualified entities or other accredited, competent and independent third parties, supporting the safety risk assessment of the UAS operations required by regulations, in particular when high level of assurance robustness is required;
- c) attestation of compliance of vertiport operations by qualified entities or other accredited, competent and independent third parties even in the absence of any applicable regulation.
Aspects that are not covered are:
— requirements for operational procedures of UAS;
— requirements for physical characteristics and equipment for vertiports;
— requirements for UTM SPs.
Urban Air Mobility is fast becoming a reality and we all have seen some ideas about what transport could look like in our urban environment through mock-ups and videos. EASA’s study on Urban Air Mobility has clearly indicated that use cases such as air taxis and deliveries for medical reasons have broad acceptance from EU citizens, and they will most likely be the first to be implemented. Our article on ‘Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL)’, explained the concept of aircraft taking off and landing in our urban areas. But where exactly will VTOLs and other aircraft take off from and land?
Looking forward to catching an air taxi? NASA is working to answer where Advanced Air Mobility or AAM vehicles will take off and land. Many AAM aircraft will be electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOLs, so they will have the ability to take off and land vertically like helicopters on helipads. AAM vehicle types could also include other power and operating concepts.
NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility mission is researching where these vertiports or vertiplexes, which are multiple vertiports in proximity, will work into existing infrastructure like current airports and heliports. There is also work being done to investigate new landing areas that can be created from repurposed areas, purpose built sites or integrated into existing buildings such as a train or bus station.
Many early cases of eVTOLs taking off and landing will occur at existing airports. Down the road, these vehicles will use their unique performance capabilities to land on the top of buildings or other spaces in crowded urban areas.
Several projects supporting the AAM mission are working on different elements to help make it a reality. This includes work on automation, noise, vertiport and vehicle design, and airspace design to keep everyone safe while flying in the skies together. It is going to take an effort between government agencies, industry, and the public to build new highways in the sky.