U.K. Flying-Taxi Hub Aims to Develop Blueprint for Aerial Roads

Trial operations of flying taxis and cargo drones will begin in Coventry, England, before the end of the year as part of a plan to develop “aerial roads” for unmanned flights in urban areas.

The project, backed by 1.2 million pounds ($1.7 million) of government funds, involves construction of a centrally located hub that will host demonstration flights across the city of almost 400,000 people, according to Ricky Sandhu, founder of Urban-Air Port, which will operate the ground infrastructure.

While plans for flying taxis and logistics drones are gathering pace around the world, most will initially avoid heavily urbanized areas, such as Volocopter’s bid to provide coastal flights around Singapore and Lilium’s push to serve 10 boutique hubs across Florida. The U.K. plan will tap an air-traffic-management system devised by Altitude Angel to allow operators to safely transit cities.

The technology “will allow all users of the sky, from air-taxis and drone operators to general aviation and emergency service helicopters, to share the airspace safely and securely,” Altitude Angel Chief Business Officer Richard Ellis said in a statement Thursday.

Federal Aviation Administration head Steve Dickson told a House appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday that he expects advanced urban aircraft to be approved in the U.S. by 2023, with the first flights taking place the next year.

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The Coventry project will see drones from Malloy Aeronautics and SkyFarer ply a number of routes to demonstrate the viability of carrying cargoes such as refrigerated medical supplies, while South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. will exhibit a flying taxi it’s seeking to commercialize by 2028 alongside demonstrations of arrival, departure, retail and entertainment facilities.

Safeguard Vertiports will meanwhile develop a certification program that meets U.K. Civil Aviation Authority regulations for safe operational turnarounds. The project will run for three or four months but talks under way to extend it by a year to allow a wider range of demonstration flights.

The hub, known as Air-One, will also function as a recharging center for ground-based electric transport including cars, bicycles and scooters. Sandhu said other U.K. cities have requested similar projects.

Royal Mail Plc earlier this week announced trial flights of a Windracers Ltd. delivery drone from the British mainland to the Scilly Isles that will take the craft miles beyond visual range. Parcels will be flown to the archipelago’s airport, with a smaller drone delivering them throughout the islands.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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