World’s First EVTOL Airport Will Land This November

We have to admit that flying cars still sound pretty cool. But if we’re ever going to get this idea off the ground, there’s a truckload of harsh realities that must be faced head-on. The most obvious and pressing issue might seem to be the lack of flying cars, but that’s not really a problem. Air taxis are already in the works from companies like Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Cadillac, who premiered theirs at CES this year.

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads. But we do need infrastructure to support this growing category of air traffic that includes shipping drones that are already in flight. Say no more, because by November 2021, the first airport built especially for flying cars is slated to be operational in England.

Image via Hyundai

British startup Urban Air Port is building their flagship eVTOL hub smack dab in the center of Coventry, UK, a city once known as Britain’s Detroit due to the dozens of automobile makers who have called it home. They’re calling this grounded flying saucer-looking thing Air One, and they are building it in partnership with Hyundai thanks to a £1.2 million ($1.65M) grant from the British government. Hyundai are developing their own eVTOL which they are planning to release in 2028.

Starting in November 2021, this temporary, pop-up eVTOL hub will used to give live demonstrations that show the viability of these electric air vehicles for transporting both passengers and goods on a regular basis, as well as in heightened response to natural disasters. The hubs themselves will be small — 60% smaller than a heliport, which is their closest living cousin. They require no runway, and can be powered completely off-grid if necessary. Urban Air Port expects to be able to stand up one of these facilities in a matter of days, which makes them ideal for getting supplies into disaster-stricken areas of the world.

Even though the overall footprint will be smaller, these hubs will still need parking lots, bus stops, and other support for ground transportation. Fortunately, this is a whole-future endeavor and the hub is designed to be harmonious with other sustainable modes of electric transport. We’re picturing an EV charger in every parking space, all of which are shaded beneath a roof covered with responsive solar panels. Oh, and there’s a really nice bus stop.

If You Build It, They Will Come

On the one hand, it totally makes sense to start building these hubs. Again, you have to start somewhere, and I know I would feel a lot better about getting into an air taxi after a bit of front-row education. Like Urban Air Port founder Ricky Sandhu says in the video below, cars need roads, trains need rails, and planes need airports. And they all need places for parking, embarking, and disembarking. Air taxis and shipping drones need places for people and goods to load in and load out of them. From the looks of it, these hubs are more than just storage and a launch pad; they’re more akin to, well, small urban airports or helipads with amenities like couches and restrooms and maybe a vending with masks and sanitizer.

On the other hand, we still have a global pandemic going on that has changed the way we work, shop, and do just about everything. There’s barely anyone using regular airplanes these days. We have to wonder how much use these near-future air taxis would get, what with way fewer people actually going to a job, and no drive-through coffee options in the sky as of yet.

Urban-Air is planning to build 200 of these hubs across the UK and abroad within the next five years. We’re excited to see where project this goes — how many hubs end up getting built, and where. NASA thinks the Urban Air Mobility market could be worth a lot in the States, but cites the current lack of infrastructure as a major barrier. Don’t tell that to Archer Aviation, a California start-up that plans to launch a fleet of air taxis as early as 2024.

50 thoughts on “World’s First EVTOL Airport Will Land This November

  1. I hope the evtol market is what people say it will be, but I fear the cart before the horse.

    Remember the moeller skycar (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moller_M400_Skycar) it was too be a revolution in transportation as well, with similar specs, just not electric.

    If the sky were full of these, even experimental, I would say things are on track. Right now, few are flying, and even fewer fly with people inside.

    The evtol doesn’t have the redundancy needed to be a people mover. Broken propellers, failed batteries and electrics will cause these to come crashing down. There is a big zone where even a parachute will not save the occupants.

    The economics are very similar to helicopters, and they aren’t cheap. Insurance is going to be difficult to get. Recharging is going to keep the costs high (a 20 minute flight will probably mean no one else can use the vehicle for at least an hour). Maintenance will still need to be done, and by specialized technicians.

    Would you want regular flights in your neighborhood? After a few so l show up at 11:30pm, no one will want these buzzy machines around their neighborhood.

    Looks good in the movies, real life, not so much.

    1. ” it was too be a revolution in transportation as well, with similar specs, just not electric.”

      That was just the M400. In 2008 Paul Moller took money from a wealthy Russian to perform an initial design study on a plug-in hybrid flying car based on the Ferrari 599 GTB.

      https://www.wired.com/2008/09/its-a-car-that/

      Like all the rest of his flying cars, the hybrid never flew either, but unlike the M200, M400 and the rest, it had the flexibility of being able to not fly on gas or not fly on electricity.

        1. You might consider applying for a job at Moller International. That’s just the kind of innovative thinking they need to draw in more investors after decades of designing but never building cutting edge functional flying cars.

          1. Oh they’ll like my latest then, using only the radioactivity left in an expired smoke detector, I’ve designed a car that can’t fly for 25 years! I’m only asking $50M, 10% discount for Bitcoin.

    2. > Broken propellers

      This is a valid concern, however we already have flying machines that use vertical-thrust propellers (helicopters). And you /almost/ never hear about those crashing, so I think (and would hope) the danger will be even less for these.

      RIP Kobe.

      1. From what I saw of the FAA report, or the reports of the report, it wasn’t very relevant that Kobe’s aircraft happened to be a helicopter, as it blamed the pilot flying into terrain in poor visibility. Possibly other types of aircraft would have rendered the remains less identifiable.

        1. Helicopters are particularly susceptible to that kind of rapid unscheduled disassembly as they tend to go where there aren’t airports. If there were airports at either end of the journey you’d use an aeroplane, it’d be cheaper.

      2. There are not that many Helicopters flying, and many of them are milliatry, so crashes are not likely to be reported, so the fact you have heard of any crash at all kind of points to them not being ‘almost never’ crash safe really… Scale the miles flown, number of them etc so there are millions of the damn things – and while the current crop of helicopter accidents is probably still small after that scaling compared to road traffic accident number, what with not letting almost any moron fly, it is not going to be a small number and the consequences are likely worse.

        That said, helicopters are almost always (maybe even always) able to have a soft ‘controlled’ crash if they loose parts of a blade, power, even the entire tail rotor. Multi rotors generally are not after any damage, the aerodynamic forces on them being unbalanced by the loss beyond the remaining props (and pilots) ability to correct – though greater prop and motor counts help there, they also add cost, weight and drag, so will (usually) reduce flight times.

        I really can’t see battery powered Electric flight taking off – its never going to match the average trip efficiency of combustion powered – where by the end of a trip the required power to stay aloft is reduced in line with the mass of fuel lost. Electric ground transport though makes a lot more sense, you can add almost infinite mass to something that rolls and pay very little comparably for hauling it around the ground still carries all that weight, it just adds to the resistance and inertia…

        1. In our country, military accidents are reported in great detail by the free press. And opposition politicians live to use them to call for more investment in the military (despite wanting less spent in it yesterday).

  2. Did anyone ever stop to consider just how loud flying cars would be? It’s one thing to have noise wafting over the neighborhood from a distant busy road or freeway, but to have these things constantly going overhead? Insanity.

    1. Great point. I play in an orchestra and one summer we were playing a concert in front of a pond with audience all around. Someone decided to fly their quadcopter with a DSLR attached over the pond to take some footage while we played. Sounds awesome, right? But if you were sitting there, you realize the noise of those rotors is actually pretty loud, especially when you’re trying to listen to some music.

      Now scale that up to a vehicle large enough to carry people. I wonder how it would compare to highway noise near where people live? In those places they try to put up sound baffles but there’s no real chance to do it with aircraft.

    2. That’s the irony. To mitigate the noise concerns, the launchpads would be placed so far away from population that the last mile problem turns into the last 10 miles problem.

      1. This would probably be the reality of the situation. Unless these things were incredible quiet, they’re not taking off from people’s driveways any time soon. In that case, where will they take off and land? If it’s away from everywhere you want to be, then they only could make real sense if you have a distant commute. In which case, why bother with the efficiency drawbacks of VTOL designs and go with that type of flying machine that has been around for over 100 years instead.

        And one more thing: there are various weather conditions that prevent aircraft from flying. Much more so than what prevents a car from driving. So now, you have an unreliable form of transportation. What a great future.

        1. Especially regarding of this noise and “last mile” problem a flying car has an advantage – you would not need a parking lot at the airport: You drive a few miles to the dedicated airport to launch but you do not need to change vehicle there.

  3. I find it interesting that the latter half of the 20th century the term “flying car” had been used almost exclusively for vehicles that could fly, but were also road-worthy motor-vehicles.

    In the last 5 to 10 years, “flying car” seems to be increasingly applied to small (1-6 passenger) VTOL aircraft that would be utterly impractical and or unlicenseable to drive on a typical city street or interstate highway.

    1. When I was a child I imagined a flying car as a small (1-6 passenger) VTOL aircraft that would never need to touch a road because… well it could fly.

      I didn’t imagine propellers, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.

      1. Road-worthy cars with attachable (sometimes trailerable) wings made it as far as working prototypes for many designers. Four Fulton Airphibians were built. Convair built a couple of Convair 116’s. Southern Aircraft built at least one working Southernair Roadable. Mizar flew their prototype winged Ford Pinto in the 1970s – not surprisingly when it crashed it went up in flames like Pintos are known to do.

        I don’t know of any car-submarines that got as far as working vehicles. The closest I can think of is the Wet Nellie from the Spy Who Loved me, and that was really just fiberglass wet sub that looked like a car and had a car double for the driving scenes.

        1. There is a really nice german Youtube channel: “The Real Life Guys” who built a “car submarine”. Of course a fun project and more or less prototype, but it could dive/ maneuver under water and they were able to drive through a Mac Donalds Drive-in to get a burger.
          Of course the electro-hydraulic tracks of a mini-excavator are not really fast :-)

    2. We’ve had flying cars like you describe for about 80 years; they’re called helicopters.
      So what we’re really saying is “where’s my affordable, easy to fly, quiet, customisable personal helicopter?”

  4. I want my flying car too.

    The technological goals of reducing CO2 production and getting our vehicles off the ground might be kind of counter one another though. We might need to wait until our electric grid is less dirty and our batteries less toxic. Meanwhile our land vehicles get better mileage.

    1. Stupid thing is I think they got better mileage in aircraft before we got it in cars, look up the Lympne Trials and capabilities of some of those aircraft. In the last half century we’ve only had designs like the Rutan Quickie that were really trying.

      1. The Quickie is efficient not only because of aerodynamics, but mainly because it’s light and *tiny*. You could make a car equivalent that would beat it largely by avoiding the inherent aircraft drawback of induced drag. All you have to do is convince people to buy a one seater that’s so low to the ground that people even in compact cars can’t see on the road.

        1. “convince people to buy a one seater that’s so low to the ground that people even in compact cars can’t see on the road.”

          Even today there are still fans of the Pulse GCRV that pretty much went that route, with two seats inline.

          1. In a world of, what, ~7 billion people, of course there would be people out there willing to drive such a thing. Suffice to say, those people belong to a very small group.

      2. I’d say that’s a little off really RW, though not as far as it should be…

        But Aircraft the world over have always had the focus on fuel efficiency where cars, particularly in the States focused on big and loud – because when you have to actually hold up the weight of your own fuel you can go further and faster with a small efficiency gain than the larger gain in power and fuel capacity. Plus unlike a 2,3,4 (or 6) wheeled ground conveyance, when you run out of go juice you fall, hopefully with some style, but its still falling, so you don’t want to run out…

        Unfortunately all the stupid “safe” ‘sports SUV’ trend that seems to be growing in popularity in Europe, and the Yanks with their longstanding love of big iron mean efficient car design hasn’t been in vogue, almost ever over most of the worlds biggest car consumers… Few car brands have made cars with good fuel economy as a high priority, many of them rather a long time ago now, and some of them still do more MPG than most modern hybrids by quite some margin… Though would loose out on green credentials as their emission are bound to be significantly worse, and they can’t possibly do the plug-in-hybrid full electric school run (though how clean that is depends on where you get the power from)…

        1. Fuel efficiency only seems to matter much for commercial aircraft. Small aircraft it seems to have gone by the board years ago. There’s the odd one or two exceptions to prove the rule as it were, but light sport aircraft are lucky to get 20mpg. I’m forgetting the model, but one was advertising 30mpg in the 80s, and pointing out you might be able to go point to point, instead of where the roads went. Assuming you had no last 20 miles either end because it needs an airport. That’s when automakers were still trying to advertise over 30 for their smaller models because the memory of the oil crisis was fresh. The attitude in light aviation seems to be “if you have to ask how much fuel it’s gonna cost you, you can’t afford an airplane.” Then for ultralights, there seems to be more focus on “how long you can hang around in the sky” rather than how far you can go for a given gallon.

  5. As someone who was once very fascinated by the prospect of widely adopted “flying cars”, and even wanting to be involved in that industry somehow, I have since changed my tune. In reality, constant overflights of these types of vehicles would be hugely obnoxious (even if they were quiet), IMO.

    Technically speaking, they’d almost certainly be 100% autonomous, which I think would be easier to implement than autonomous road vehicles. I also think a “simple” multi-rotor would actually be cheaper to produce than an automobile in equivalent quantities. However, regulations would (probably rightfully) be a lot more stringent than for cars, which would probably cause the per-mile cost to be the highest among all common forms of transportation.

    I have experimented with a unique method of propulsion, which would avoid exposed rotors, but maintain similar efficiencies, and perhaps allow for more flexibility in packaging. Maybe I’ll hold on to it just in case PAVs ever do become serious business, even though I’m not a fan of them. lol

  6. lately everyone’s favourite Mr. Musk fantasised about supersonic electric VTOL aircrafts that will make regular commercial jets obsolete, so we have no shortage of extreme battery powered ideas. i guess this would be his ‘plan B’ if the starship somehow fails to revolutionise long distance earth-to-earth travel.

    1. I’m still curious as to how people will board and deboard the intercontinental version of starship. I also suspect that the vast majority of flyers would not want to ride on it, so it would be a niche market that’s hard to imagine being worthwhile.

  7. just your next multimillion (or billion) scam
    anyone who ever had to deal with airplanes of any sort and who has at least a little undestanding of physics will know very well that these electric drones have no application in the real world.
    if they still build conventional helicopters is not out of laziness or ignorance. is because thats the only possible way to fly payloads around.

    1. multicopter’s benefit is to be able to use only electronic controls and no complex mechanics. however, the advantage disappears once things get bigger. heavier rotors have too much inertia to allow using only rpm to control thrust. moreover, 2 rotors is a lot less efficient than 1, and the bigger the rotor, the more efficient it is. thats why the multicopter formula is absurd, to carry stuff around.
      “Why not make an electric helicopter?”
      because batteries are too heavy. helo manufacturers would gladly trade their mothers for a 2% weight reduction (whch translates in a 2% payload increase). using batteries more or less brings the payload to zero (the payload is the batteries)

      1. A 2% weight reduction can be a larger payload increase, depending on the weight to payload ratio. For a Eurocopter EC130 (chosen at random):
        Empty weight: 1,377 kg (3,036 lb)
        Max takeoff weight: 2,427 kg (5,351 lb)
        Making max load including pilot(s) and fuel 1,050 kg. 2% off 1,377 kg = 27.5 kg, almost a 3% load increase.

    1. The frustrating part is that if people would have worn masks and done distancing, we would have been about done with the virus in the US by now. Other countries have managed it.
      Based on their actions, I can only guess some people must have gotten something out of being in a pandemic.
      Demonstrating their power to cause misery and death, perhaps. Otherwise they would have taken precautions to avoid spreading the communicable disease.

  8. There are or have been at least 132 VTOL projects that are either on going or have been shelved for lack of progress. Airbus gave up after 10 years. They all face the same problem and none of them have an original idea. They are all trying to replace the efficiency of the force known as lift with the inefficient force known as thrust. If thrust were an efficient force then airplanes wouldn’t need wings. Helicopters fly because their rotary wings produce lift. The outer 25% of a rotary wing produces 75% of the lift so when you reduce the size of the rotor even a little bit, you lose most of the ability to create lift.

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