Passenger drones, or, autonomous craft, are still in the testing stages and are said to be at least decade away from the people-carrying drones that will be into commercial use.
However, investors in a range of countries, from Singapore to London to Melbourne to Miami, have begun to scope out sites for building or acquiring landing facility sites for the passenger drones. These investors say that it is important to start securing sites well in advance of the initiation of flights, so that “vertiports” are ready when the drones need them. The idea behind their zest for these investments is to charge a fee for the drone operators to land, recharge batteries and perhaps store vehicles overnight. Thus, if hundreds of drones ultimately use the vertiports, the revenue stream from fees should be substantial. There are other spin-offs from the passenger-carrying drone enterprise, including startups that are developing air-traffic-control systems that will allow drones to fly over cities and land in them and other enterprises that are looking to improve the charge capacity of drone batteries. And, there will always be a varied use for the drones, from carrying passengers to carrying packages for drop-off at businesses and homes – Amazon has been experimenting with this aspect for a few years. For the vertiport, itself, however, the investment will be fairly steep – a vertiport complete with charging stations and a passenger lounge could cost around a million dollars to build, and some cities might need hundreds of them (ref WSJ). It’s also likely that, in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration will get involved and will be instrumental in approving new vertiports. Vertiport investors are initially targeting shopping malls, parking garages, sports stadiums and concert venues, all of which have the added benefit of plenty of parking space for passengers who drive their cars in to hop on the drone. The British startup Skyports has secured rights to about 15 sites in London and is joining with Volocoper, a German drone designer, to develop a prototype vertiport in Singapore. And Uber Technologies plans to offer a transport service using electric vertical-takeoff vehicles by 2023. The company expects there to be a need for 83 vertiports that can each handle 12 vehicles at once in 3 or 4 cities for efficient service, and is working with developers to make that proposed need a reality. All developers of vertiports are looking to stay ahead of the curve for what will ostensibly be a great new wave for aviation.