Companies buying up rooftops as London set to welcome flying taxis

25 Nov 2019

Milli Jones

London is to be one of the launching points for a new global market in flying taxis. Companies such as Uber, Lilium, and Kitty Hawk (which is backed by Google) are investing heavily in the development of short-distance electric aircraft. The goal is to develop urban aviation services to taxi people within cities in the next few years.

With these flying taxis needing convenient and secure places to land and drop off or pick up passengers, property investors and developers are seizing the opportunity to get involved. Landing infrastructure company, Skyports, has already leased 15 rooftops across London to develop landing pads (referred to as “vertiports”) with plans to continue increasing their portfolio.

Flying taxis in London – the future of transportation?

Flying electric aircraft have the potential to take cars off the road, increase use of poorly optimised airspace, and boost connectivity within cities. With the added advantages of being quieter, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly than other methods of transportation, for key stakeholders, the widespread use of flying taxis is not a case of “if” but “when”.

Although the market within London has yet to take off, property developers are already thinking about the infrastructure needed to support flying taxi services when the time comes. According to Skyports, London “is anticipated to be one of the largest markets for urban air mobility”. As well as charging the flying taxi companies to use the facilities to land and disembark passengers and cargo, additional revenue will come from storing drones and aircraft, charging and changing batteries, and general cleaning and vehicle maintenance.

Of course, despite developers’ optimistic outlook, there is a level of risk involved. Challenges for those looking to invest in the landing infrastructure business include:

  • In big cities, there is limited space and leasing suitable rooftops is likely to be expensive
  • Some helipads may already be available to redevelop as vertiports but will probably not be able to take the high level of traffic expected from flying taxis. Investors will instead need to develop other rooftops according to planning regulations which do not really exist at this time
  • At the moment, many electric aircraft are only able to travel short distances before their batteries need recharging. This will require frequent stops, placing a large and potentially expensive burden on the vertiports supporting the vehicles
  • The flying taxis and associated landing facilities will need to comply with strict safety regulations. Private helicopters are statistically more likely than other aircraft to be involved in accidents; although the developers insist their electric aircraft are safer, just one accident could result in considerable disruption and public hostility towards the industry
  • Electric aircraft are relatively quiet compared with other vehicles; however, they could still cause issues for people living very close to a busy landing facility. If they are not careful, developers may find themselves caught up in lengthy noise nuisance disputes with their neighbours

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