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.