UK start-up Skyports has ramped up its activity in the US as it seeks to establish an international network of helipads for flying taxis and drone deliveries.
Skyports has so far secured 15 rooftops in London as ‘vertipads’ for passenger and cargo drones, and is currently negotiating on further sites in the capital.
The company has recently expanded into Finland and the US too.
Duncan Walker, managing director at Skyports, said: “We have 15 in London and a number more under negotiation. We have started work on the east coast of the US and are working with a company in Finland, which has a very progressive aviation authority to start operations there.”
The identity of the Finnish partner and the nature of work on the US East Coast has yet to be revealed.
Besides venues, Skyports offers technology, regulatory advice, and operational skills around drone operations.
In London, the company is focused on deliveries within the M25. Its 15 existing rental sites are all between Paddington and Whitechapel in central London, with a scattering south of the Thames, towards Clapham and Greenwich.
All sites can accommodate cargo drones, for parcel deliveries with around half being large enough to support passenger drones.
Walker added: “We look for properties located in the areas of most significant need, in highly populated areas with lots of congestion and most friction in terms of moving people and goods around. They key for us is location, accessibility, and the building itself.”
Skyports is also considering a variety of property types, including multi-storey car parks, office buildings, residential blocks and self-storage buildings. Sites are to be equipped with goods and passenger handling facilities, recharging equipment, and communications and guidance equipment.
Cargo vertiports, already operational in some markets, will be used by the likes of UPS, Fedex, DHL, as well as logistics companies involved in the delivery of food and other items.
Passenger vertiports, which still require technology and regulation development, will be used by ‘flying-taxi’ operators such as Uber to collect and deliver passengers.
Drones are already delivering mail in Singapore, laboratory samples in Switzerland, blood in Africa, and commercial packages in China and Walker thinks within five years, drones deliveries will be commonplace in many cities, including London.
As yet, London has no ‘vertiports’ receiving drone traffic.
Walker said: “It features a number of airports and dense use of the sky. It won’t be the first adopter, but it will catch up quickly, because it has a progressive aviation authority committing lots of energy to regulating this space.”
He continues: “Drone technology is in its infancy. The scope of what will be possible is hard to conceive. A limiting factor is battery technology. Better battery capacity increases range and payload, and opens up increasingly exciting opportunities. Packages, people, surveillance, inspection are all areas which can be revolutionised by drone technology.
“Drones are now surveying farms to look at crop productivity. The software can identify areas of infestation, what type of infestation and can communicate with ground vehicles to apply exactly the right type and amount of pesticide in exactly the right area. This is hugely time and cost efficient, but also very environmentally friendly.”