“Vertiport Meets e‑Airport”: Future of Inter-Regional Hubs?

A Berlin-based sub­sidiary of Munich Air­port has pub­lished a pro­to­type design of an elec­tric-pow­ered inter-region­al hub. The report is writ­ten by Olaf Bunck, a Senior Man­ag­er for Strate­gic Air­port Devel­op­ment at amd.sigma Berlin. The com­pa­ny is aim­ing to “rev­o­lu­tionise avi­a­tion” with an ini­tial design con­cept that com­bines a ver­ti­port with an e‑airport.

The design­er’s report states, “These region­al air­ports — many of which are for­mer mil­i­tary air­fields — are either cur­rent­ly in oper­a­tion or aban­doned and have the poten­tial to serve as inter­modal nodes for eVTOL and small elec­tric short and con­ven­tion­al take­off and land­ing (eSTOL/eCTOL) air­craft.”

It con­tin­ues, “In design­ing a pro­to­typ­i­cal ter­mi­nal con­cept, the team sought to cre­ate a sim­ple, cost-effec­tive, ener­get­i­cal­ly sus­tain­able (with a focus on on-site pro­duc­tion) and mod­u­lar build­ing struc­ture that allows for future expan­sions.”

The report includes an inter­view with mem­bers of the design team. Here it is below:-


Where did the idea of an inter­re­gion­al eAir­port orig­i­nate from?

Our team is cur­rent­ly engaged in two major research projects in Ger­many, in part­ner­ship with our par­ent com­pa­ny Munich Air­port Inter­na­tion­al, Air­bus, Bauhaus Luft­fahrt (a renowned Ger­man think-tank for avi­a­tion), and sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ties. The projects focus on the devel­op­ment of Advanced Air Mobil­i­ty and are fund­ed by the Ger­man gov­ern­ment. The goal is to design and ulti­mate­ly con­struct two pro­to­typ­i­cal ver­ti­ports – one of them being locat­ed at Munich Air­port. Dur­ing the course of our work it became appar­ent that research had been pri­mar­i­ly cen­tered on infra­struc­ture for eVTOL on the one hand, and eSTOL/eCTOL on the oth­er. This led us to the con­clu­sion that a more inte­grat­ed, holis­tic approach was nec­es­sary in order to exam­ine poten­tial syn­er­gies between these two modes of trans­port. As such, we decid­ed to con­sid­er their com­bi- nation in a sin­gle, inte­grat­ed sys­tem.

What have been the key take­aways from this process so far?

The inte­gra­tion of AAM at an inter­na­tion­al air­port pos­es a chal­lenge but is not impos­si­ble. The new trans­porta­tion tech­nol­o­gy could be more prof­itable for con­nect­ing region­al air­ports, as trans­porta­tion ser­vices can be pro­vid­ed at attrac­tive prices. It could be very use­ful to offer a fast con­nec­tion between urban, inner-city areas and more remote regions. Inner-city areas would be relieved, rur­al regions would be strength­ened, and region­al air­ports would gain new sig­nif­i­cance. This would cre­ate a triple-win sit­u­a­tion. At region­al air­ports, entire­ly new traf­fic pat­terns could emerge if eVTOL, ESTOL and ECTOL (elec­tric con­ven­tion­al take­off and land­ing) traf­fic are com­bined. This rep­re­sents an oppor­tu­ni­ty for eco­nom­ic growth.

What would a pas­sen­ger do in the mid­dle of nowhere out­side of a big city?

Exact­ly! We exam­ined sites that were not too far from larg­er cities, such as sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed areas near Berlin and iden­ti­fied more than 20 region­al air­ports in the region. Some are in oper­a­tion, some aban­doned, but nev­er­the­less could poten­tial­ly be used for eSTOL air­craft. While we typ­i­cal­ly focus on either eVTOLs or eSTOLs, com­bin­ing the two tech­nolo­gies could cre­ate syn­er­gies and offer sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits.

Can you spec­i­fy on those com­bined advan­tages?

eVTOLs can trans­port a lim­it­ed num­ber of peo­ple with zero emis­sions and with­out ned­ding a run­way, but they have lim­it­ed range. They are well-suit­ed for access­ing remote region­al air­ports that are typ­i­cal­ly dif­fi­cult to reach. Once at a region­al air­port, pas­sen­gers could trans­fer to a small elec­tric plane, or eSTOL/eCTOL, which has a greater range but requires a run­way. With typ­i­cal­ly no more than 1,000 metres these run­ways can be sig­nif­i­cant­ly short­er than those required by tra­di­tion­al region­al jets. Fur­ther­more, since all vehi­cles are emis­sion-free and poten­tial­ly low-noise, an eAir­port could co-exist bet­ter with inhab­it­ed areas.

Where does the “e” as in elec­tric come into place?

As part of our efforts to build for the future, it is essen­tial to pri­or­i­tize emis­sion-free tech­nol­o­gy. Togeth­er with my col­league Birg­er Strüf­ing and Dr. Kay Ploet­ner from Bauhaus Luft­fahrt (BHL), we have iden­ti­fied key spec­i­fi­ca­tions for a sus­tain­able approach:-

: all-elec­tric bat­tery pow­er, with hydro­gen poten­tial­ly intro­duced as an option at a lat­er stage
ener­gy pro­duc­tion on site to the great­est extent pos­si­ble.

: Very short tran­sit times and paths.

: A sus­tain­able build­ing struc­ture for the ter­mi­nal.

: Cost-effec­tive­ness, with a focus on low-tech solu­tions that have a high impact.

Where would the ener­gy come from?

One poten­tial design ele­ment for this air­port is the inclu­sion of a solar field adja­cent to the run­way, which could be approx­i­mate­ly the same size as the run­way sur­face. There are already sev­er­al exam­ples of small, aban­doned air­ports being con­vert­ed into solar parks, and this approach could be repli­cat­ed at an eAir­port. The ben­e­fit of this design is that the solar field can gen­er­ate rev­enue by sell­ing clean ener­gy to the grid while the air­port is not yet oper­a­tional. After a few years, the solar field could pay for itself, allow­ing the air­port to utilise the ener­gy for its own pur­pos­es and poten­tial­ly reduce oper­a­tional costs. This could cre­ate new pos­si­bil­i­ties for region­al avi­a­tion oper­a­tions by pro­vid­ing a clean, effi­cient and secure ener­gy source.

Can you explain how such an air­port could look in the future?

The designed ter­mi­nal inte­grates gate­ways for small elec­tric planes and a ver­ti­port under one sin­gle roof to facil­i­tate easy pas­sen­ger tran­sit. It also allows for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of lug­gage and secu­ri­ty checks, if nec­es­sary. This pro­to­type air­port can eas­i­ly be expand­ed to meet increas­ing demand for addi­tion­al ver­ti­port posi­tions, lounge and wait­ing areas as well as air­craft stands, as each func­tion can be extend­ed inde­pen­dent­ly.

What makes your air­port cheap and still sus­tain­able?

The imple­men­ta­tion of bat­tery-elec­tric air­ports presents an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rev­o­lu­tionise the avi­a­tion indus­try while also pro­mot­ing sus­tain­abil­i­ty. By util­is­ing exist­ing air­port infra­struc­ture, con­struc­tion is min­imised, and the envi­ron­men­tal impact is reduced.

The new ter­mi­nal facil­i­ty and infra­struc­ture are designed with cost-effec­tive­ness and sim­plic­i­ty in mind, while also con­sid­er­ing the envi­ron­men­tal impact. This is achieved through the use of a sin­gle floor con­cept and the elim­i­na­tion of com­plex fea­tures such as ele­va­tors or esca­la­tors, which not only sim­pli­fies the design but also reduces ener­gy con­sump­tion.

The oper­a­tional con­cept utilis­es effi­cient pro­ce­dures such as roll-in/roll-out for air­craft oper­a­tions, rather than tra­di­tion­al push-back oper­a­tions. This allows for walk-board­ing for both elec­tric planes and eVTOLs (elec­tric ver­ti­cal take­off and land­ing) air­craft, fur­ther sim­pli­fy­ing the air­port oper­a­tions, reduc­ing costs, and min­imis­ing emis­sions. Addi­tion­al­ly, the use of elec­tric air­craft and eVTOLs sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduces emis­sions and noise pol­lu­tion, mak­ing it a more sus­tain­able mode of trans­porta­tion.

The ter­mi­nal incor­po­rates green open spaces and cir­cu­la­tion areas that act as cli­mate buffer zones and is con­struct­ed using a mod­u­lar and eas­i­ly adapt­able build­ing struc­ture. Local mate­ri­als such as wood can be incor­po­rat­ed into the design, and local con­struc­tion com­pa­nies can be utilised, which is par­tic­u­lar­ly ben­e­fi­cial for emerg­ing coun­tries.

Where do you envi­sion this air­port being built?

Ger­many has a high con­cen­tra­tion of region­al air­ports that are under­utilised. Sus­tain­abil­i­ty often involves repur­pos­ing exist­ing infra­struc­ture and there is sig­nif­i­cant poten­tial to do so with these region­al air­ports. Many of these air­ports have strug­gled finan­cial­ly in the past, but our con­cept aims to change that by revi­tal­is­ing them and mak­ing them prof­itable. Not to for­get, a suc­cess­ful air­port, even a small one, cre­ates a lot of real-estate val­ue in the imme­di­ate neigh­bour­hood.

Our con­cept is not cen­tered on a sin­gle air­port, but on the cre­ation of a net­work of small air­ports. Ger­many has many small air­ports that could poten­tial­ly be part of this net­work. We do not intend to com­pete with rail trans­porta­tion, but rather want to iden­ti­fy and serve traf­fic pat­terns that would be most suit­able for our net­work of small air­ports.

The advent of elec­tric ver­ti­cal take­off and land­ing vehi­cles and elec­tric short take­off and landing/conventional take­off and land­ing air­craft with extend­ed ranges has the poten­tial to rev­o­lu­tionise trans­porta­tion.

These vehi­cles, with ranges of up to 200 km for eVTOLs and sev­er­al hun­dred to 1,000 km for eSTOL/eCTOL, would allow for seam­less trav­el between major des­ti­na­tions such as Lon­don, Zurich, Vien­na, and Ams­ter­dam from the Berlin area, as well as pro­vid­ing access to pre­vi­ous­ly less acces­si­ble regions in the East.

How could a typ­i­cal trav­el-expe­ri­ence look like?

As an exam­ple, con­sid­er a fam­i­ly trav­el­ing from a cen­tral loca­tion in Berlin to Venice. Using our net­work of small air­ports, they would start by tak­ing a short flight from a ver­ti­port in a strate­gic loca­tion in their neigh­bour­hood to a region­al air­port South of Berlin. The fam­i­ly of three would use an eVTOL car­ry­ing hand-lug­gage.

The trans­fer time at this region­al eAir­port would be less than 30 min­utes, after which they could board a small elec­tric plane (such as the Vaerid­ion, Alice, or Heart) for a flight to Venice. Small elec­tric air­planes will have a capac­i­ty of approx. 10–25 pas­sen­gers.

Upon arriv­ing in Venice, they could even poten­tial­ly land at the old Lido Air­port, avoid­ing the need for addi­tion­al trans­porta­tion such as a bus or vaporet­to. While this is just one exam­ple, it illus­trates the poten­tial for effi­cient and con­ve­nient trav­el using our net­work of small air­ports. Let’s dream a bit….

Will this be a mass trans­port or will it be a lux­u­ry?

The pric­ing and tar­get mar­ket for this mode of trans­porta­tion would depend on a vari­ety of fac­tors, includ­ing the cost of devel­op­ing and oper­at­ing the air­ports and planes, the ameni­ties and ser­vices offered as well as the over­all demand for this type of trans­porta­tion.

Just like elec­tric cars, elec­tric air­craft such as eVTOL, eSTOL and eCTOL, have the poten­tial to offer sig­nif­i­cant cost sav­ings when it comes to main­te­nance. Elec­tric propul­sion sys­tems have few­er mov­ing parts and require less fre­quent main­te­nance com­pared to tra­di­tion­al com­bus­tion engines, which trans­lates to low­er main­te­nance costs.

Addi­tion­al­ly, the use of elec­tric propul­sion can also lead to reduced oper­a­tional costs, as elec­tric pow­er is gen­er­al­ly cheap­er than tra­di­tion­al fos­sil fuels. Over­all, the move towards elec­tric air­craft is expect­ed to bring a notice­able cost-effec­tive advan­tage over the exist­ing air­crafts, par­tic­u­lar­ly com­pared to tra­di­tion­al heli­copters.

It is like­ly that the devel­op­ment and pro­lif­er­a­tion of elec­tric planes and this net­work of small air­ports will lead to com­pet­i­tive tick­et prices, espe­cial­ly as con­cerns about fos­sil fuel avail­abil­i­ty and envi­ron­men­tal impact con­tin­ue to grow. With elec­tric planes pow­ered by solar ener­gy, there may not be many oth­er options avail­able, as the use of fos­sil fuels becomes increas­ing­ly restrict­ed.

As the cost of renew­able ener­gy gen­er­at­ed from sources such as wind and solar is com­par­a­tive­ly cheap and con­tin­ues to decrease, it is increas­ing­ly like­ly that elec­tric trans­porta­tion will become a preva­lent mode of trav­el. The use of solar ener­gy in par­tic­u­lar, as a vir­tu­al­ly cost-free source of ener­gy, will play a sig­nif­i­cant role in mak­ing this a real­i­ty.

As the famous say­ing goes, “The sun does not send a bill.” This, in com­bi­na­tion with the envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits and the increas­ing need for more sus­tain­able and effi­cient trans­porta­tion, will like­ly dri­ve the wide­spread adop­tion of elec­tric avi­a­tion in the com­ing years.

The design of this small air­port net­work aims to min­imise cap­i­tal expen­di­ture (CAPEX) by util­is­ing exist­ing ground infra­struc­ture at cer­tain loca­tions and keep­ing costs low. Ini­tial capac­i­ty for these air­ports is esti­mat­ed to range from a few hun­dred thou­sand pas­sen­gers to near­ly one mil­lion per year, with the poten­tial for expan­sion as demand increas­es.

A net­work of approx­i­mate­ly 10 region­al air­ports in Ger­many that gen­er­ate their own ener­gy through solar pow­er could be par­tic­u­lar­ly attrac­tive to busi­ness­es, espe­cial­ly as the air­line indus­try moves towards emis­sion trad­ing and zero-emis­sion trav­el becomes finan­cial­ly incen­tivised. This shift to sus­tain­abil­i­ty is already being embraced by some larg­er cor­po­ra­tions, fur­ther increas­ing the appeal of emis­sion-free air trav­el.

What is your assess­ment of the mar­ket poten­tial? Which sec­tors and loca­tions are of par­tic­u­lar inter­est?

In our mar­ket analy­sis in Ger­many, we have iden­ti­fied sig­nif­i­cant oppor­tu­ni­ties at region­al air­ports. While com­pe­ti­tion with exist­ing routes may not nec­es­sar­i­ly be the pri­ma­ry focus, offer­ing unserved short-haul routes could prove to be a viable strat­e­gy. By grad­u­al­ly expand­ing the range of desti- nations avail­able under the umbrel­la of these region­al air­ports, a net­work could be estab­lished.

One key advan­tage of our con­cept is its high­ly flex­i­ble scal­ing capa­bil­i­ties and the poten­tial re-use, adap­ta­tion and inte­gra­tion of exist­ing infra­struc­ture. It is impor­tant to con­sid­er that the demand for air trav­el is dri­ven by the num­ber of pas­sen­gers and the rate of growth in this sec­tor.

Fore­casts for the region­al and short-haul flight mar­ket, even when based on con­ser­v­a­tive esti- mates, show promis­ing poten­tial. In addi­tion, we antic­i­pate that region­al avi­a­tion could com­ple­ment the cur­rent land­scape of air trav­el, par­tic­u­lar­ly as large major air­ports start to reach their capac­i­ty lim­its.

As con­cerns about envi­ron­men­tal issues con­tin­ue to rise, many large busi­ness­es have imple­ment­ed sus­tain­abil­i­ty agen­das that restrict short dis­tance flights for their work­force. An increas­ing num­ber of leisure trav­el­ers also feel uncom­fort­able about the car­bon foot­print of their vaca­tion trav­els. Our con­cept address­es these con­cerns and offers an alter­na­tive solu­tion.

How­ev­er, the mar­ket poten­tial in emerg­ing coun­tries may be even greater. Our con­cept is based on reduc­ing com­plex­i­ty, increas­ing envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty, and pro­duc­ing your own ener­gy. Ter­mi­nal build­ings can be con­struct­ed on site using sim­ple con­struc­tion meth­ods.

Elec­tric avi­a­tion, sim­i­lar to elec­tric auto­mo­biles, sim­pli­fies tech­nol­o­gy and main­te­nance. In warmer coun­tries, solar ener­gy is also more eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable and solar parks are rather easy to build and oper­ate. Espe­cial­ly coun­tries with poor­ly devel­oped trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture or com­plex topog­ra­phy (islands, water, spe­cial ter­rain) could skip sev­er­al stages of devel­op­ment and direct­ly tran­si­tion to elec­tri­fied avi­a­tion.

The ben­e­fits of Advanced Air Mobil­i­ty at region­al air­ports are fur­ther enhanced by Germany’s lead­er­ship in key tech­nolo­gies such as ener­gy-gen­er­a­tion and man­age­ment, eVTOL/eSTOL/eCTOL devel­op­ment, and sus­tain­able con­struc­tion sys­tems. The poten­tial for this mod­el of small air­ports and elec­tric planes is sig­nif­i­cant, with the sky being the lim­it for future growth and devel­op­ment!

For more infor­ma­tion


(News Source: amd.sigma Berlin)

(All graphics/images: amd.sigma Berlin)

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