Much has been said about the growing industry of Urban Air Mobility (UAM), often described as the next step in aviation. Most of the popular discourse on UAM has focused on the numerous aircraft racing to be the first to market and the hurdles of regulations these vehicles face. Less attention has been paid to the infrastructure that will support this emerging industry. Because of this, information about much of the terminology and logistics is more difficult to come across.
In an effort to illuminate this aspect of the field, this piece will focus on the world of UAM infrastructure, namely what has been called Vertiplaces or Skyports. Vertiplaces refer to three different types of UAM hubs, each varying in size and overall purpose: Vertihubs, Vertiports, and Vertistations. While many of these spaces need to be developed from the ground up, there are myriad preexisting helipads and other aviation infrastructure that can be retrofitted to accommodate the UAM industry.
Vertihubs would work similarly to airports and would be located in close proximity to — but not directly in — urban or suburban areas. They would be the largest of the ground infrastructure and serve as the main space for urban flight in a geographical region. Vertihubs would operate as locations for major maintenance and repairs, space for the storage of long-haul vehicles, and as the center of operations for a region, in addition to functioning as spaces for pickup and drop off of people and cargo. The goal of UAM is to provide urban areas with a robust transit system. Vertihubs provide support on the periphery of major urban centers, ensuring that other Vertiplaces are space-efficient.
Vertiports would function as takeoff and landing pads in the heart of urban centers. They would take the role of bus or train stations for the urban air transport market. To accomplish this, Vertiports would have to be strategically located in heavily trafficked areas of urban spaces.
While having to accommodate multiple eVTOLs at once, they would be much smaller in scale than Vertihubs. They would not need the space to house long-haul vehicles. However, they would need infrastructure for passenger management spaces and security checkpoints.
The goal for Vertiports would be to seamlessly incorporate them with already existing means of transport such as subways, trains, and bus lines. Vertihubs would be what most people associate with UAM, as they would be what the general public use most frequently and would be the centers of operation for any ride-sharing network that remotely connects passengers with urban aircraft.
Vertistations would prove to be the smallest of the Vertiplace network. These stations would typically only house one to two landing pads. They would function as intermediate spaces located in suburban areas, allowing easy commutes into urban areas. The creation of Vertistations would focus on bringing periphery locations into the larger transit network.
While seemingly minuscule in scope, Vertistations will play a pivotal role in the widespread adoption of UAM. Much of the urban traffic that clogs cities today is caused by commuters moving into the city center at various points throughout the day. Vertistations will provide an alternative to automobile transit. It is not enough for the UAM industry to provide travel within an urban center; it must also provide transit options into and out of the city.
Uber, the industry leader, revealed its plans for several Skyport designs for cities across the world at the Uber Elevate Summit in 2019. At the summit, eight firms showcased sixteen total designs for cities ranging from Los Angles to Dallas to Melbourne. These designs vary in size and function. Some — such as SHoP’s “Arc” concept, Mithun’s “Skypark,” or Pickard Chilton & Arup’s “Sky Loft” — allot spaces for charging electric bikes and scooters in addition to the space for eVTOLs. Other designs — such as Corgan’s “CONNECT” — incorporate restaurants, grocery stores, and other facilities into their Skyport design.
While much has been said about UAM aircraft, it is important to note the infrastructure that will make this all possible. Vertiplaces and Skyports will play a pivotal role in the widespread adoption of UAM. As the industry races towards launching UAM services by the middle of the decade, the importance of this infrastructure will be more and more apparent. Forecast International will continue to watch this industry and observe the development of new designs and technological breakthroughs.