The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issued what it calls the “world’s first” official guidance for building vertiports for air taxis and other electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
It’s the first publication of its kind, coming three weeks after the FAA published a draft engineering brief on the topic asking for industry input.
As a handful of major players in the nascent eVTOL air taxi industry work toward EASA and FAA certification by developing and testing pre-production prototypes, experts have long said building safe and effective vertiports will be a key to success.
#EASA issues the world’s first design specifications for vertiports, which will provide the ground infrastructure for Urban Air Mobility aircraft such as air taxis to take off and land safely in Europe’s cities.https://t.co/Kao8elx7v9 pic.twitter.com/lUSe35rWor
— EASA (@EASA) March 24, 2022
EASA’s prototype technical design specifications, published March 24, come as the FAA works to hammer out a similar document. The FAA’s draft engineering brief, posted earlier this month, will ultimately provide interim guidance to airport owner operators until a more comprehensive advisory circular on vertiports is developed.
Why It Matters
For years, experts have been saying the necessary infrastructure to support a scaled-up eVTOL air taxi industry would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company has estimated that, depending on size and mission, each vertiport facility could cost between $200,000 and $7 million to build.
Choosing locations for vertiports will be complicated, they warn, because of hot-button issues such as noise, security, passenger parking and boarding areas, and providing space for maintenance, repair, and overhaul as well as battery charging and replacement. Also, there are many questions surrounding aircraft downwash and outwash that would be created by eVTOLs and their associated flight in and out of ground effect.
Efforts to build vertiports are already underway. In the U.S., air taxi developers Archer Aviation (NYSE: ACHR) and Joby Aviation (NYSE: JOBY) have said they intend to develop a network of vertiports in multiple cities. They’re expected to begin offering flights as soon as 2024. Worldwide, a division of Hyundai and U.K.-startup Urban-Air Port announced plans last year to build 65 international “electric air mobility hubs” by the end of 2026.
Safe Operations in ‘Obstacle Populated Environments’
EASA’s 179-page document “offers guidance to urban planners and local decision-makers,” as well as the urban air mobility (UAM) and advanced air mobility (AAM) industry as a whole, “to enable the safe design of vertiports,” many of which will be located in heavily populated urban areas.
Flying in urban areas is key to the mission of many eVTOL companies, which are aiming to develop aircraft for short, zero carbon-emissions flights across traffic-congested cities.
After gathering feedback from eVTOL OEMs, vertiport companies, and experts across the EU, the EASA document lays out specific guidelines for eVTOL vertiports, including a unique funnel-shaped area above each vertiport designated as “obstacle-free volume” (OFV) zones.
According to EASA, OFVs would compensate for landing in congested neighborhoods and “obstacle populated environments.” Congestion and obstacles may require “synthetic cues” to “guide the aircraft,” EASA says.
How We Got Here and What’s Next
Back in May 2021, EASA sent a letter to UAM OEMs asking for recommendations for design specs. The EASA requested information from UAM OEMs about:
- maximum takeoff mass
- lateral maneuvering area during takeoff
- recommended approach and departure paths compared to ICAO heliport specifications
- required takeoff distances (RTOD) needed and aircraft characteristics for rejected takeoffs (RTO)
- taxiing, ground movement, and parking requirements
- recommendations for downwash protection for safe operations and minimal hazards
Next, EASA is expected to work toward a full-scale rulemaking program aimed at creating a full spectrum of regulatory requirements for vertiport operations. Those rules will include detailed design specifications, requirements for vertiport operational requirements as well as operational oversight.