Sep 26, 2022 - Economy

Meet the "vertiport," where you'll go to hail an air taxi

Rendering of a potential vertiport for Wisk's autonomous flying taxis.

Wisk's concept of a potential "vertiport," or landing site for autonomous flying taxis. Image courtesy of Boeing

The skies could soon be filled with electric, autonomous air taxis, but they'll need a place to take off, land and recharge — hence the arrival of the "vertiport."

Why it matters: These transportation hubs could become critical parts of urban or regional mobility ecosystems, linking fast and convenient air travel to other forms of transit, like airports, buses, trains and ride-hailing networks.

  • Freight networks will need them too as they employ similar aircraft to ferry cargo between distribution centers.
  • Rural areas like Alaska, where 80% of communities are accessible only by air, will also need landing spots.

Driving the news: The Federal Aviation Administration is releasing new design guidelines, shared first with Axios, to ensure these landing sites are safe, well-lit and well-marked, and that they can support the necessary charging infrastructure.

  • While the FAA has yet to certify these low-altitude aircraft for flight, the agency's vertiport design guidelines will help airport owners, operators and infrastructure developers begin development now so they're built when the aircraft are ready to launch.

Where it stands: Manufacturers of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOLs) — giant passenger drones, if you will — are already laying out plans to begin operations, some as soon as 2024 with pilots on board.

  • Boeing-backed Wisk last week released a roadmap outlining how it aims to integrate pilotless air taxis into the national airspace system by 2030.
  • Germany's Lilium plans to open its first vertiport near Orlando by 2025 for piloted flights.
  • Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation have each partnered with Reef, the country’s largest parking management company, to create landing sites atop existing parking garages. They're initially focusing on a handful of cities, including Miami and Los Angeles.

What they're saying: "Our country is stepping into a new era of aviation. These vertiport design standards provide the foundation needed to begin safely building infrastructure in this new era," said FAA associate administrator of airports Shannetta Griffin.

Details: The FAA guidelines provide key information about how vertiports should be developed, including standard dimensions, lighting and signage.

  • They should be 100 x 100 ft. — a little bigger than three tennis courts — with a 48 x 48 ft. landing pad in the middle, marked by a dedicated crosshairs symbol identifying it as a vertiport.
  • The guidelines also dictate the airspace required for approach and departure, stipulating that a vertiport must be 500-700 feet away from existing commercial runways.
  • The FAA also spells out rooftop requirements for elevated vertiports.

Flashback: New York Airways briefly offered helicopter service to the top of the Big Apple's Pan Am Building (now the MetLife Building) in the 1960s and '70s, but stopped after a fatal crash.

What to watch: It's not clear who should pay for eVTOL vertiports.

  • The funding issue is being heavily debated at the federal, state and local levels, reports Vertical Magazine, an industry publication.
  • Thousands of heliports already dot the U.S., but fewer than 1% are available for public use. Most are private or military sites.

The bottom line: Once far-fetched dreams like flying cars are beginning to take off, thanks to technology advancements and huge capital investments.

  • Where they'll land is the next question.
Go deeper