Like other countries around the world, Australia is embracing the emerging eVTOL and Drone Industry with enthusiasm. Its Government trade website proclaims of having a “Highly skilled, tech-savvy talent that attracts global enterprise…” And goes on, “This makes us one of the most innovative countries in the world… Our outsized AUS167 billion technology sector has grown 26 percent since the onset of the pandemic…”
Concluding, “Investors and global tech developers know that Australian consumers are technology early adopters who are open to change. This makes us a great market to trial and pioneer new services.” While exultant words, Euromonitor ranks the Australian people fourth in the world for digital consumption. Therefore, it is of no surprise Australians have seized the green aviation revolution with fervour and gusto, particularly given the size of the country and where around 7 million or 28 percent of its population live in rural or remote areas.
The drone delivery industry is particularly well advanced. Two companies dominate: Wing and Swoop Aero. Presently, Queensland is the primary hub for Australia’s trials. Logan city in Brisbane is particularly active.
Wing has been extensively testing its drone delivery of a wide variety of everyday products during the last three years. The U.S‑based company has carried out over 200,000 successful Australian deliveries since its first launch in April, 2019. (please read the interview below).
Meanwhile, Swoop Aero focuses more on healthcare and delivering medical products while proudly emblazoning the “Drones for Good” banner. After operating successfully in Africa, the company began trials last year in the States of Queensland and Victoria flying items to remote communities.
Seven months ago, the company made an important breakthrough by receiving the go-ahead from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to operate a drone logistics remote operations centre at its campus in Port Melbourne, Victoria. The approval means the company is able to “operate like an international airliner” and centralise operations in one facility, including remotely monitoring global enterprises across Oceania, Africa and Europe, as well as operate up to five drones Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) by a single pilot leading to 30 or more later on, putting Swoop on track to provide global services to one billion people by 2030.
In recent months, Australian collaborations have been announced including one with pharmacy chain, TerryWhite Chemist, and another with Mater Pathology. The former is in partnership with the country’s largest healthcare wholesaler, Symbion. The trials will soon commence from the town of Goondiwindi, located on the Queensland/New South Wales border.
The latter is to transport medical samples including blood tests and Covid-19 swabs from Southeast Queensland’s Moreton Bay islands to Mater testing labs.
Swoop Drone Delivery (Image: Swoop)
The partnership is expected to slash up to six hours off the time it takes for samples to reach for testing, with the bi-directional network expected to collect more than 80,000 pathology samples a year.
The news came four months after Swoop raised USD18 million in a Series B funding round led by Main Sequence Ventures. Swoop had been offered USD100 million buy-out by a U.S defence contractor which the company turned down.
Surprisingly, eVTOLs are slow to catch on. There is no serious home-based company involved in manufacturing flying taxis which has opened up the market for others like Eve Air Mobility and Wisk Aero to capitalise on.
Eve made its first foray in December 2021 after announcing a deal with Nautilus Aviation, one of Northern Australia’s largest helicopter operators. Through this collaboration, Nautilus has ordered up to 10 aircraft from the eVTOL developer to be used in Queensland’s tourism areas, including the Great Barrier Reef. Two months later Eve then disclosed it had received two further orders for up to 90 eVTOLs from Aviair and HeliSpirit (50) and Microflite (40).
Eve Air Mobility ‘Nautilus’ (graphic image: Eve)
Aviair, an airline and charter company and Helispirit, a helicopter tour agency, intend to operate the aircraft in Western Australia, offering flights to tourist attractions in the Kimberley, South-West and Greater Perth regions. Delivery is expected in 2026.
The 40 eVTOLs for Microflite, a helicopter service company, are also scheduled for the same year, but this time to Melbourne in south-eastern Australia. There, the aircraft will be used in general Urban Air Mobility applications. The partnership plans to work with municipalities and other stakeholders to create a “safe and scalable operating environment for eVTOL operations”.
Jonathan Booth, CEO of Microflite, commented, “After working closely with Eve over the past few months, we have identified a network of potential routes and we look forward to working with commercial partners and communities to prioritise these routes and trial selected operations with our existing fleet.”
Wisk is also eyeing up Australia, signing a Memorandum of Understanding last year with the Council of Mayors South East Queensland. The two organisations will work together to introduce a safe, sustainable and scalable autonomous air taxi service to South East Queensland, eventually leading to a full service during the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brisbane.
The State’s mix of rural, beach and city landscapes makes it an ideal location for trials and launching innovations such as eVTOL aircraft.
Wisk Aero Gen 6 (image: Wisk)
Gary Gysin, CEO of Wisk, remarked, “This will not only benefit Wisk, but local communities and the industry as a whole. We look forward to building on the strong relationships we have in Australia to make safe, all-electric, autonomous flight a reality.”
Yet, without infrastructure, there will be no Australian eVTOL industry and the country is fortunate to have a highly enterprising individual called Clem Newton-Brown, who via his company Skyportz (not to be confused with the UK-based Skyports), is pioneering Australia’s vertiport network.
Back in October 2021, Newton-Brown’s ambition came to the fore when he announced Skyportz first Australian infrastructure for air taxis would be built at the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Centre of Excellence (AACME) in Moreton Bay, Brisbane in 2023.
In fact, the company has been accumulating potential vertiport sites since 2018 and now has well over 400 property partners ready to construct a Skyportz network.
The company is working alongside both Australian Federal and State governments to assist development of the standards, regulations and zones for the Skyportz ‘mini-airports’ to be located in and around cities and regional centres.
Ty Hermans, Director of AAMCE, stated, “To us it makes perfect sense that the most advanced manufacturing centre in Australia should include the most advanced transport system possible in its design. Brisbane is busily preparing for the Olympic Games in 2032 which will provide a great opportunity for the city to embrace a new form of transportation and showcase it to the world.”
Adding, “This will put Australia on the map and we expect that by 2032 we should have a well established electric air taxi service in Brisbane, if we gain the support of all levels of Government.”
Then last August, given the fluidity of this emerging industry, Skyportz announced at the AAUS annual Advanced Air Mobility summit, the design for the first vertiport in Australia is now to be located at Caribbean Park in Melbourne’s east, the fastest growing enterprise precinct outside of its Central Business District.
Looking more like a Yes music album cover created by Roger Dean, the look is impressive and very futuristic (see image below). The design came about after collaborations with Contreras Earl Architects, to70 aviation, ARUP and Microflite.
Newton-Brown commented, “With the development of a vertiport in a business park we are breaking the nexus between aviation and airports. The Caribbean Park venture is the first in a network of sites we will establish in advance of eVTOLs becoming operational.”
He continued, “For this industry to succeed it needs to have policy makers pushing the envelope to support new “mini airports” in locations people want to go.” Adding, “Community support is going to be the key to the development of these services where the benefits must be clearly shown.”
Some view this approval as a major milestone. The location will support the Melbourne urban area’s commuting requirements, where the project’s success is largely contingent on efficiently linking to other parts of the transportation system. This includes the Melbourne International Airport as well as cities nearby, like Geelong, alongside the potential of transforming helicopter landing pads to create a network of eVTOL routes to form a main hub in and around the city.
Meanwhile, last year the Federal regulator, CASA released a roadmap for the introduction of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) to Australia.
Please Read the AAM Roadmap
This was followed in late November by a CASA Paper entitled ‘Guidelines for Vertiport Design — Draft Advisory Circular’ aimed to create a consultation period for the industry which closes on March 31st.
Please Read The Consultation Paper
Joe Hain, Team Leader of Future Aerodromes, explained, “We’ve started the ball rolling by examining and outlining what vertiports could look like; where and how they might operate; as well as the safety requirements needed.”
This advisory Paper provides a flexible framework for developers to create a vertiport that can be built in different locations and be used by different types of emerging aircraft.
Hain continued, “The aim is that vertiports can be built where they are needed, whether it’s on top of a skyscraper in a high-density city, or in an open space of a regional town.”
To develop an innovative eVTOL network in any country, a focus is required. Just as France hosts the Olympic Games in 2024 and America the same in 2028, so Australia is hosting the Games in Brisbane, South East Queensland during 2032. What an ideal focal point for the eVTOL and vertiport industries to embrace.
Companies like Wisk and Eve already have one eye on flying athletes and the public from Brisbane to the Gold and Sunshine Coasts during the Games, where, no doubt, other flying taxi manufacturers will join them.
Finally, you can’t discuss the future of aviation without mentioning Alauda Aeronautics and its extraordinary Airspeeder racing craft. Based in Beverley, South Australia, the company’s vision is taking Formula 1 and transforming this to the sky.
The inspiration behind the groundbreaking venture is Matthew Pearson who believes that just as Formula 1 has sped up the development of the motor car, so flying racing cars will do the same for eVTOLs.
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