Do you remember The Jetsons from the 1960s-80s? For millennials out there, it is an animated sitcom which imagined what future in the 20th century might be. Fans would remember the iconic flying family car — it is fast becoming reality, with multiple stakeholders within the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) ecosystem working to make it happen.
Urban Air Mobility (UAM) represents an interesting segment within AAM where aircrafts provide transportation services (both goods and people) targeting at urban cities. On-demand autonomous aviation through electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircrafts (eVTOLs) have the potential to alleviate urban intra and intercity traffic congestion, while keeping emissions low with electric or alternative fuel motors. As volume scales, players expect costs to reach parity to today’s land transport options.
However, UAM is not without its challenges. Regulatory requirements and urban planning remain key challenges to overcome, and it is not hard to imagine that a whole-of-ecosystem approach would be required to accelerate developments. As enabling technologies like cybersecurity, materials and batteries advance and technical challenges in aircraft development are overcome progressively, let’s not forget that ground infrastructure and operations are also critical in UAM. As such, there is opportunity for infrastructure players to develop structures and operational systems customised for UAM operations.
In August 2022, ST Engineering participated in the Series B funding round of Skyports, a UK startup developing vertiports — landing infrastructure for eVTOL aircrafts — and conducting drone operations such as deliveries, inspection, and surveillance. Other investors in Series B included Japanese conglomerate Kanematsu Corporation, global industrial property group Goodman Group, Italian airport platform 2i Aeroporti and US-based Venture Capital firm GreenPoint.
ST Engineering is a leading unmanned aircraft systems participant in Singapore and has developed a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) — DroNet. Skyports has been involved in the operation of DroNet since early 2021, notably for monitoring and inspection of reservoirs for Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB). The investment in Skyports strengthens this relationship, as the parties expect to leverage complementary strengths to advance UA services globally.
Drone goods deliveries can be seen as forerunners to autonomous air taxis. As Skyports grows and develops its drone operations, learnings it garners would certainly put it in good stead for its infrastructure play. Skyports has also been busy in the vertiports front. It is part of a British consortium to build the world’s first advanced electric flight ecosystem in the UK, testing technological developments in aircraft, infrastructure, and operational systems. Since closing its Series B round, Skyports announced a joint development with Joby Aviation on Living Lab, a passenger terminal to test technologies and procedures for passenger experience and launched a new office in Japan for UAM deployment in 2025. It is also expecting to launch a vertiport testbed in Paris this November, where leading eVTOL OEMs will test their aircraft capabilities in a live environment.
With steady developments within the UAM ecosystem — and indeed in Skyports, we eagerly await the materialisation of urban air travel and believe that Skyports is well-poised to be a frontrunner.