In conversation with Skyports’ new Head of Americas, Andrew Cummins, we discuss the value Skyports provides in the Advanced Air Mobility ecosystem, what the future of AAM looks like in the Americas, and how Andrew plans to grow Skyports’ business as the AAM industry emerges.
What is Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and how will it be commercialized?
AAM represents the next revolutionary step in air transportation and has the potential to provide societal benefits that rival previous advancements in transit innovation, such as the railroad and automobile. AAM holds the promise for the future of air travel, which will connect communities, allow for significantly reduced travel times and add capacity to transportation networks. Most importantly, it will be based on the principles of safety, sustainability and equal access for all.
To make AAM a reality, an ecosystem of organizations, both public and private, must come together around common vision and advance the capability in a collaborative manner. Not one singular entity or organization will bring AAM to fruition. It will truly take a village. To that end, a significant amount of engagement has already begun, which has laid a strong foundation for the ecosystem to define a coordinated path forward. That ecosystem includes private industry that is developing eVTOL air vehicles, vertiport infrastructure, and unmanned traffic management systems, as well as governments, academia and local communities.
What value does Skyports provide in the AAM Ecosystem?
The main focus of AAM generally revolves around the extraordinary new eVTOL air vehicles that integrate many new technologies to allow for safe, electric, and, eventually autonomous, flight. However, for eVTOLs to operate in our communities, they require take-off/landing and passenger handling infrastructure. This critical infrastructure – a vertiport – functions like mini airports, which will enable the safe, efficient and effective movement of people and cargo.
Not only will vertiports enable AAM in a community, they will also stimulate development around them to further benefit the local area. For centuries, activity has developed around ports (seaports, airports) and represented an important economic building block for vibrant cities. I believe that vertiports will do the same in our communities and provide another driver of economic vitality.
After building the world’s first passenger air taxi vertiport in Singapore last year, Skyports has established itself as a leading vertiport designer, developer and operator globally. We are excited to build on that momentum in the Americas. Currently, Skyports is working with our eVTOL vehicle, real estate development and local government partners in specific markets to identify and secure sites to build vertiports.
How is Skyports creating and innovating vertiport design and operations?
Skyports remains committed to designing and operating its vertiports in a manner that contributes to AAM market development. To achieve that, we have developed a set of design principles which can be applied to any site around the world. We have a strong conviction that vertiports should be:
- Vehicle agnostic: Ability to support multiple eVTOL configurations to aid the creation of a competitive AAM market
- Cost effective: We have designed a highly versatile vertiport that can be deployed rapidly in a range of environments
- Modular and scalable: The design has the flexibility to grow as AAM scales to meet passenger and cargo demand
- Sustainable: Our vertiports are built with recycled and environmentally friendly materials
Beyond forward-leaning design, we are also developing safe and efficient operational capability for our vertiports. Our top priority is the safety of all stakeholders (passengers, pilots, operational staff and the public). Skyports is actively working with and within aviation regulators and standards development bodies to shape the rules framework for safe, efficient infrastructure. Ultimately, we are integrating advanced technology and designing a seamless passenger experience to make the process contactless, efficient and simple.
What does the future of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) look like in the Americas?
Some of the world’s most populous urban/suburban areas are in North and South America, making AAM a natural complement to current modes of transportation. As regions continue to grow in population and geographic size, and the strain on current infrastructure (roadways, train systems) increases, AAM will open the ‘third dimension’ of travel to provide a safe and efficient addition to current multi-modal transit systems. As city and regional governments continue to work with industry and launch innovative transport options, I see three distinct levels of mobility developing not only in the Americas, but around the world:
- Regional Mobility: Various forms of transportation that focus on movement in excess of 25 miles (i.e. commuter rail, highways). In large cities, this can be a very difficult commute and provides a perfect use case for AAM.
- Local Mass-Mobility: Various forms of transportation that focus on movement between five and 25 miles (i.e. subway systems, roadways). The cost to maintain and expand these systems can be prohibitively expensive and provide capped benefit due to its fixed nature; another area for AAM application to complement existing transit systems.
- Micro-Mobility: Various forms of transportation that focus on movement less than 5 miles (i.e. bikes, scooters). Micro mobility is one option to provide the ‘last mile’ transit from the AAM vertiport to the ultimate destination.
An efficient and effective multi-modal transport system in the future will leverage all of these mobility types and AAM will be a key component.
What is driving the emerging AAM industry?
The industry is advancing due to the confluence of technological development, aging transit infrastructure and the high costs to upgrade, and demand driven by population growth. The convergence of those elements, along with the significant capital being invested in the industry, means the future of AAM is closer than you might think. Many of the base technologies for the eVTOL vehicles are on a TRL (Technology Readiness Level) path to support operations in the coming years. The same holds true for airspace management and autonomous capabilities. From an aging infrastructure perspective, many of our cities are looking for alternatives to compliment the costly transit systems in place today. And finally, while Covid-19 could potentially reshape what our cities look like in the future, what still remains true is that our population will continue to grow and the need for mobility between cities and regions will be even more important than ever to support a growing, inclusive economy.
What benefits does AAM provide to society?
Skyports is relentlessly focused on our vision to build a more connected, sustainable and enjoyable world through elevated mobility. For Skyports and the broader AAM industry to accomplish that bold task, we must:
- Improve the way people, packages and critical goods move around our communities
- Reduce traffic congestion and advance decarbonization objectives
- Democratize travel and connect all communities with fast, cost-effective transit
Imagine a world where emergency services can be provided more quickly to increase health outcomes. Imagine a world where packages can be delivered on demand within minutes. Imagine being able to spend more time with loved ones by reducing long, endless commutes. Once we have solved that challenge, only then can we say mission accomplished!
What are some of the biggest challenges to commercialize AAM?
With the large ecosystem of partners necessary to realize the AAM vision, one of the main challenges is ensuring a coordinated roadmap to commercialization to ensure all elements are ready on a similar timeline. For example, if eVTOL vehicles gain certification but the infrastructure is not implemented, then the market will be delayed. This is why industry, government and other stakeholders must work closely together as an ecosystem to ensure that we don’t find ourselves in a situation of latent demand.
Skyports is also a drone delivery service provider, can you please share more about that?
One of our most exciting R&D areas is advancing drone delivery services to support the medical and logistics/e-commerce markets. In support of the NHS response to COVID-19 in Scotland, Skyports provided a delivery program between two hospitals in the Scottish Highlands, successfully completing a ground-breaking medical proof of concept. This pilot proved that industry, working collaboratively with regulators, can provide safe, secure drone delivery services. We look forward to applying those learnings and bringing that capability to the Americas.
Lastly, please tell us more about yourself and how you plan to grow the Americas business?
When I’m not thinking about the potential of AAM, I enjoy health, fitness and outdoor activities. And, having recently moved to San Francisco, I’ve assimilated by spending time in Napa and Sonoma enjoying some of the best wine in the world! I have spent my entire career at the intersection of aerospace and innovation, so AAM truly fulfils my passion and desire to leave the world a better place than I found it. This is a new industry, and no one has all the answers, but Skyports is excited to work closely with our partners to bring AAM to life. We are always looking for partners to work with, as well as talented, passionate individuals to join our team.