Today’s burgeoning advanced air mobility (AAM) market has spawned dozens of companies around the world racing to develop eVTOL air taxis, with plans calling for fleets of the novel aircraft to transport passengers as early as 2024. But to make the dream of AAM a reality, those fleets of eVTOL aircraft will need dedicated places to take off and land, and most communities lack the needed infrastructure.
Industry forecasters predict that cities will need to spend tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure alone before they can adopt AAM services. But one company, Volatus Infrastructure, aims to significantly reduce that cost by offering more affordable vertiports it can build quickly and easily.
Based in Neenah, Wisconsin, Volatus Infrastructure is developing small and scalable vertiports that can be built in under four weeks for as little as $500,000, making it “by a very large margin the most affordable, cost-conscious eVTOL infrastructure option out there,” the company’s CEO, Grant Fisk, told FutureFlight.
Volatus Infrastructure’s vertiports offer eVTOL aircraft a space to recharge, take off, and land, while providing an indoor facility where passengers can rest and prepare to board their flights. The company’s vertiports are also easily scalable, meaning that additional landing pads and passenger facilities can be added as demand for eVTOL flights increases. “It's something that can be very easily expanded and scaled up to meet future needs…it’s designed to grow and expand with the industry,” Fisk said.
The company’s smallest and simplest base model, the “Touch ‘N Go Pad,” covers an area of just a few hundred square feet and includes one landing pad with a vehicle charging station and a small passenger terminal. The larger of the two base models, called the Volatus Hub, includes a 1,000-square-foot passenger terminal with multiple landing pads and the ability to manage several flights simultaneously.
In addition to the vertiport facilities, Volatus Infrastructure plans to release a new app for vertiport managers and eVTOL vehicle owners and operators to manage their operations, allowing them to schedule flights and plan maintenance services. While Volatus Infrastructure won’t directly provide maintenance services, its app will serve as a platform for vehicle operators to schedule maintenance through third-party service providers. Customers also will be able to book flights with the app.
The Volatus Infrastructure app “is designed to operate sort of like an Expedia or Kayak, so it will work with all the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] who are working on their own apps to schedule flights to work like a clearinghouse to schedule a flight,” Fisk said. “If you're a vehicle owner or operator, you can schedule a landing, you can schedule charging, you can schedule storage at a Volatus vertiport.
Volatus Infrastructure says the chargers at its vertiports will be vehicle agnostic, meaning any type of electric aircraft can use its charging stations regardless of the vehicle’s manufacturer—but with some limitations.
“A majority of the vehicle manufacturers are agreeing to use one single charging protocol, which makes life on the infrastructure side way easier because we can’t have a dozen different charging stations on a single landing pad to serve whoever is landing there. We do need some more standardization,” Fisk said.
A few eVTOL manufacturers, such as Joby and Volocopter, are developing their own proprietary charging methods and won’t be able to use the same type of standardized plugs to charge their vehicles at a Volatus vertiport. “For the most part, though, everyone else is kind of agreeing to use a single charging protocol, so it will be usable by just about everybody else,” Fisk added.
Volatus Infrastructure’s charging stations could even serve other types of electric aircraft, not only those that take off and land vertically. Fisk explained that the company’s first customers will mostly be small regional airports that already have runways and whose operators want to add new eVTOL charging infrastructure. Theoretically, any electric aircraft using those airports could taxi to the Volatus charging station to recharge, as long as they use the same kind of universal charging equipment used by most eVTOLs.
While Volatus Infrastructure expects to build its first vertiports at existing airports, Fisk stressed that the feasibility of the advanced air mobility market will depend on vertiports located across communities in urban, suburban, and rural areas. “In order to really kind of see this industry grow at the rate people are expecting, it's going to have to be rural enough to be neighborhood-level," he explained. "It’s going to have to be essentially everywhere.”
For its first-ever vertiport location, Volatus Infrastructure is getting ready to build one of its Touch ‘N Go pads at Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Volatus Infrastructure plans to break ground on the new vertiport in the spring of 2023. Eventually, the company hopes to build its vertiports not only across the U.S., but all over the world. The company has already formed partnerships with eVTOL manufacturers, including SkyDrive in Japan and Air One in Israel. It also plans to build its vertiports in Australia, and the company has recently formed a partnership with the Australian-based company Play&Co Creative Group to further its design and business development projects.