UAM: Asian cities will lead the way

Skyports MD tips Bangkok and Singapore as being among first cities to build infrastructure and start urban air operations

Asian cities are set to lead the way as the new urban air market develops from concept to reality.

Skyports partners with consortiums to offer a complete city solution. The company has been working in Singapore, alongside Volocopter to work on landing infrastructure to support the new urban air market.

Managing Director Duncan Walker described the current situation as “a little tricky:" “There’s no regulation, there’s no clear path to market its not clear which countries are going to be the first movers, so there’s a lot of moving parts that have not yet been solved. With that, there’s a lot of opportunity, but there’s also a lot of challenges. At some point you just want to know what the answer is, rather than just searching for the answer.”

Focus on infrastructure now for flights in 2023

Walker said Singapore already had the vehicle technology and both government ministries and local authorities were supportive of the emerging market. He said: “It’s a real balance, because infrastructure is a big ticket item. It’s long lead time but unless you are looking at that now, you are not flying in 2023 because you’ve got nowhere to go.”

He added that to be operating in 2023, infrastructure would need to be built in 2021 or 2022 and that the building itself would be quicker than the associated processes of certification, electrification, planning permission and other local authority consents.

Long lead times for airports

“It’s not an environment where you can say ‘I need a vertiport here tomorrow,’” added Walker. “There is a long, long run up to that situation.”

Walker said that the first UAM heliports or landing areas would be smaller scale and would develop as the market grow: “It is capital intensive to build airports. Until you’ve got that big volume market, there’s no point in building something the equivalent of Heathrow if you’ve only got five flights landing a day. What we look at is how scalable these things are.”

Asian “proof points” may lead way for UAM in London or USA

Public perception towards building new airport facilities is a hot topic in the UK, with widespread opposition to runway expansion at both Heathrow and Gatwick.

Walker said this was not the case in other markets. “In Singapore and other Asian markets there is much less involvement of the public because of the political regime. What you also find is the public in these environments are used to new tech and they are very good early adopters of those things - the risk appetite may be a little higher.”

He said Asia would lead the way when it came to the new UAM market: “My view is that you might have some relatively unnatural early adopters: Bangkok, Thailand or it could be Singapore. Once you see the benefits of these things, once you see the proof points, then you can start translating them into London or other American cities.”

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