The CEO of Aus­tralian infra­struc­ture devel­op­er Sky­portz has said the recent fold­ing of Uber Air will be a pos­i­tive for the air taxi indus­try, as he looks to revive plans for ser­vices in the coun­try.

Mel­bourne was one of Uber Ele­vate’s first launch cities along­side Dal­las and Los Ange­les and the divi­sion was bought by Joby Avi­a­tion at the end of last year. The city is now named as one of Joby’s list of tar­get cities and the com­pa­ny is work­ing towards launch­ing its first com­mer­cial ser­vices as ear­ly as 2024.

Speak­ing at the Aus­tralian Asso­ci­a­tion for Unmanned Sys­tems con­fer­ence in Can­ber­ra last week, Mr New­ton-Brown, who is also Chair of the work­ing group on Advanced Air Mobil­i­ty, said: “Uber Air had been push­ing an unre­al­is­tic vision for this indus­try which has cap­tured the media but is ulti­mate­ly unsus­tain­able.

“In decades to come we may well have inner city sky­port tow­ers capa­ble of han­dling 1,000 air­craft move­ments per hour as tout­ed by Uber Air, but this is an unhelp­ful vision to be pro­mot­ing before we even have a cer­ti­fied air­craft oper­at­ing.

“The real­i­ty is that there is a long, long way to go for the air­craft and oper­a­tional sys­tems to enable urban advanced air mobil­i­ty. And the step to autonomous flight with pay­ing pas­sen­gers at scale is way over the hori­zon.”

Sky­portz was set up by Mr New­ton-Brown in 2019 and it is cur­rent­ly work­ing with the prop­er­ty indus­try in Aus­tralia to iden­ti­fy poten­tial net­works for land­ing infra­struc­ture, ensur­ing the coun­try is up to speed for when the first air taxi ser­vices take to the sky. There is strong pol­i­cy sup­port for devel­op­ment of air taxis by the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment and state gov­ern­ments such as Vic­to­ria, New South Wales, Queens­land and Tas­ma­nia.

A num­ber of inner city prop­er­ty devel­op­ers have already signed up to be part of its land­ing infra­struc­ture net­work, with a focus on secur­ing exist­ing heli­pads, region­al air­ports, tourism des­ti­na­tions and indus­tri­al land away from sen­si­tive uses.

And sep­a­rate­ly, EmbraerX announced at the end of last year that it had devel­oped a Con­cept of Oper­a­tions with Airser­vices Aus­tralia, which will help accel­er­ate urban air mobil­i­ty in the coun­try.

“We expect to have an oper­a­tional net­work not long after the air­craft are first cer­ti­fied to fly com­mer­cial­ly. The chal­lenge is to attract one of the first suc­cess­ful air­craft to Aus­tralia and the Sky­portz land­ing net­work is a crit­i­cal piece of the puz­zle,” New­ton-Brown said.

“When these air­craft get cer­ti­fied they will essen­tial­ly oper­ate as pilot­ed elec­tric heli­copters, util­is­ing exist­ing heli­pads and avi­a­tion infra­struc­ture. The air­craft are like­ly to be used for longer range region­al con­nec­tions rather than hop­ping about between city rooftops.

“This is the real­is­tic vision. It is still excit­ing but not quite as con­fronting as the thought of thou­sands of air­craft buzzing at low alti­tudes over our cities, which has jus­ti­fi­ably con­cerned peo­ple.

“A real­ly impor­tant part of the devel­op­ment of this indus­try is com­mu­ni­ty accep­tance. We need to take it one step at a time. Replace heli­copters with elec­tric air taxis and let the com­mu­ni­ty judge if they are hap­py for these small­er, lighter and qui­eter air­craft to be land­ing in more sen­si­tive loca­tions.”

As well as devel­op­ing infra­struc­ture net­works, Sky­portz also recent­ly com­plet­ed its first drone deliv­ery flight in part­ner­ship with Taz Drone Solu­tions, which trans­port­ed oys­ters and wine to Pic­nic Island, Freycinet, Tas­ma­nia.

New­ton-Brown has said this was a first baby step in the devel­op­ment of what will be a heavy lift­ing drone deliv­ery air­line. Its next flights aim to fly 150km out to Flinders Island, locat­ed to the north east of Tas­ma­nia.

To get more insight about Sky­portz’s vision, you can lis­ten to New­ton-Brown who was a guest on the eVTOL Insights pod­cast series in Octo­ber last year.