Frustrated by long travel times before you even check in for your flight? A solution could be on its way to an airport near you.
Companies are close to introducing electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (eVTOLs), helicopter-like aircraft that will take passengers from airports to destinations as far as 100 miles away. Airports are preparing for eVTOLs by planning where the so-called “vertiports” can take off and land.
“It will happen in the near future. You have to consider the design and location of vertiports,” said Paul Hoback, chief development officer at the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International Airport. “We’d like to have a plan and be prepared when these eVTOLs come to market.”
Vertiports are not unlike the helipads that for years have helped some wealthy travelers shuttle above traffic-clogged cities like New York and Los Angeles. While not as bad as those cities, traffic in Pittsburgh does back up—especially in and near the city’s downtown—and will likely get worse as the region’s thriving economy continues to grow.
EVTOLs could also help travelers who live in other parts of Pennsylvania or West Virginia and Ohio use PIT as their primary airport, which is now in the process of building a $1.4 million terminal expected to open in 2025.
Sites under consideration for a vertiport at PIT include the roof of the airport’s short-term parking lot and the ends of concourses B or C in the airside terminal, Hoback said.
Sunshine State progress
Plans for vertiports seem further along in Florida than anywhere else in the U.S.
The country’s first high-speed, electric air mobility hub is coming to Lake Nona in Orlando by 2025, officials there say.
Built in partnership with the City of Orlando and Lilium, a German aviation company, the Lake Nona facility will be a hub for a state-wide urban and regional air taxis.The location will connect more than 20 million Floridians within a 186-mile radius and serve several major cities including Tampa.
Like much of Florida, the Orlando area has severe traffic congestion and inadequate roads.
“Our transportation infrastructure has not kept up with our growth. We could build more roads, but that’s not the answer,” said Justin Braun of the Orlando Economic Partnership.
International infrastructure development firm Ferrovial is working with Lilium and consulting giant AECOM to develop a network of at least 10 vertiports across Florida that will provide zero-carbon locations to land, recharge and take off.
Noise abatement materials and surfaces are integrated into the design to further reduce the relatively low noise emissions from eVTOLs.
“By incorporating flexible and modular elements, our partners will be able to scale the vertiports with growth, permitting an efficient space that allows for future innovation while emphasizing the passenger experience,” said Elisabeth Bernitt, senior vice president and managing principal with AECOM’s Buildings + Places business.
Ferrovial’s vision extends far beyond Florida, however. The company is planning dozens more vertiports across the United Kingdom and Spain.
“We are committed to develop innovative solutions that improve air connectivity, are environmentally friendly and create value to the communities,” said Gonzalo Velasco, Ferrovial’s head of innovation. “Ferrovial Vertiports signifies the new era of air transport infrastructure.”
Ready by 2025?
Aviation experts expect electric taxis to be up and running by 2025.
Maybe, say many who are in the business. All electric aircraft are still undergoing testing and approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, a process that’s not always fast or smooth.
“FAA approval for anything often takes longer than planned,” said Chad Willis, director of planning for ACAA.
In recent years, electric aircraft have shown promise but have been slow to get federal approval. The eFlyer 2, made by Bye Aerospace of Denver, was introduced in 2016, first flew in 2018 and still awaits FAA approval.
The biggest challenge in designing electric aircraft is the weight of their batteries.
Taking off and getting to cruising altitude requires a lot of energy and lift. For most aircraft, that means they need a larger wing surface area to provide adequate lift at lower speeds. But the larger surface area adds drag and makes cruising less efficient at high speeds.