The world’s first flying taxi hub takes shape in the English Midlands

Urban-Air Port aims to build 200 hubs over the next five years and is offering five different designs: the Air One passenger base on show in Coventry; a floating Marine One version; Resilience One, which can be quickly assembled to provide disaster relief; City Box, for cargo carriage; and Docks Box, designed to attach to loading bays at warehouses and logistics centers.

The company says it is engaged in 65 active programs around the world with real-estate developers, city authorities, airports, business hubs, science parks, tourism ventures and government planners. It holds letters of intent and pre-orders for 13 vertiports worth about 60 million pounds ($73 million).

The company also has reserves for development as equity fundraising approaches 20 million pounds from investors including Hyundai, the developer of the Supernal SA-1 eVTOL, a full-scale model of which is on display in Coventry.

The project is also backed by the city’s council and government-funded UK Research and Innovation.

Britain is not only a world leader in eVTOL hubs but a major player in developing the craft, with Bristol, England-based Vertical Aerospace Ltd. leading a crowded global field with more than 1,300 provisional orders won.

Virgin Atlantic Airways, which has signed for 150 of Vertical’s VX4 craft, says the UK’s compact geography and large number of major towns and cities, combined with crowded roads, make it an ideal testbed for the new technology.

In addition to gaining public acceptance, something the Coventry experiment is designed to help address, flying taxis must win certification from aviation regulators. That could prove challenging given how different eVTOLs are from most earlier craft.

Integrating air taxis into aviation networks presents another hurdle. They could initially operate under visual flight rules as helicopters do now, and navigate using physical landmarks, but scenarios involving hundreds of craft touching down in locations across a city would require far more complex control systems.

More than 10,000 ticket-only visitors have so far explored the Coventry hub since it opened on April 25, with thousands more craning their necks to watch the double-bed-sized Malloy Aeronautics T150 drone climb above the city.

Under special dispensation from the UK Civil Aviation Authority, it is the first time an unmanned craft of its size has ever flown in such a built-up environment. Sandhu says feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Industry visitors have included representatives from Vertical Aerospace and its German rivals Lilium and Volocopter, Airbus and Boeing’s eVTOL joint venture Wisk, as well as discount airline EasyJet, Munich airport and aerospace manufacturers BAE Systems and Leonardo.

The public response has been “tremendous,” with people generally enthused by the project and even some skeptics won over, says Sandhu, citing a man employed in the local auto industry who attended with his son.

“He was initially very negative,” Sandhu says. “But after half an hour of looking around and watching a flight he had completely changed his mind. He came in a naysayer and left a convert. These are the people we need to convince.”

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