On the technical side, any vertiport has a few key physical requirements: a stable electric grid for fast recharging, a hangar for maintenance and a system to move vehicles into it, and enough room around the takeoff and landing pad for the aircraft to maneuver. While Urban-Air Port’s design has a moving platform to lift vehicles to the roof of the building, Hermans explains that vertiports will require less clearance than helicopters, which land a lot less vertically than most of us imagine—eVTOLs, by comparison, do, as the name suggests, actually take off vertically. “That allows you, in your vertiport design, to start to integrate them into much denser urban environments where helicopters might not be able to operate,” says Hermans.
While computer renders of vertiports often place them atop buildings, that would require passengers to have access to a lift to the top, and many building managers will not be keen on letting random members of the public inside. Tower rooftops also often house building equipment such as lift mechanisms and air conditioning ducting, leaving a relatively small footprint to place a vertiport. Sure, it might be fine for a single vehicle, but a financially viable vertiport is likely to require space for multiple vehicles.
Though some wealthy private companies may offer their staff rides in air taxis as a perk, Hermans predicts public vertiports are more likely to be sited atop lower buildings, such as car parks—and this is why Sandhu spent three weeks in a Coventry car park next to a train station. “The challenge is getting aircraft into compact, dense locations,” he says—and, crucially, as close as possible to other transport infrastructure.
There’s another reason lower vertiports have merit: They take less time to board. Urban-Air placed its OneAir port in a car park next to a train station to make it faster and easier to access. Had it been on top of a building, passengers would add extra time to their journey. On the other hand, the more centrally located vertiports are, and the lower to the ground they are, the higher the risk of crashes and noise.
That’s the physical side of vertiports. On the passenger side, it’s unclear whether security will be similar to airports or train stations—and reducing time-consuming queues and checks matters for a market that is betting on quick trips. “If you’re spending 10 minutes going through security for a flight that only lasts five minutes, that doesn’t really stack up all that well,” Hermans says.
Of course, airports aren’t just about travel—like it or not they’re about shopping too. To work out how to best make use of the space available, Urban-Air Port worked with duty free experts from Qatar Airways on the design of the retail areas. “The key thing was having brands showcase some of their products in a very small footprint,” Sandhu says.
It may seem a bit early to be fine-tuning space for lattes and retail—after all, none of the eVTOLs are yet approved by regulators, let alone in mass production. But the industry needs to start considering infrastructure before air taxis are ready to fly. “If you make an airplane, you don’t have to worry about where it’s going to go,” says Sergio Cecutta, of transport analyst firm SMG Consulting. “We don’t want to get into a catch-22 situation where there are no vehicles, so there’s no infrastructure. We need to do it at the same time.”