The Australian COVID-19 pandemic started in Victoria in January 2020. This occurred after Australian passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were quarantined in Japan. Despite government efforts to contain the virus, the then little known COVID-19 continued to spread. The pandemic also caused enormous problems across the globe, causing severe financial setbacks to the airline industry and most of the general aviation (GA) operators. However, in Australia, the GA rotorcraft industry did not suffer any significant losses, contrary to the grim predictions being touted in 2020.
In fact, Australian helicopter numbers grew steadily as their annual growth rate moved up to 7.1%, twice Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By comparison, drone industry statistics seemed to ‘explode’, and rapidly passed the helicopter industry in numbers. According to industry observers, the rotorcraft industry saw significant gains from the global pandemic crisis. Sceptics had to admit the growth of the rotorcraft industry was due to it being located within the GA industry and not the extremely troubled Australian airline industry segment.
So, what is General Aviation? The Australian and International Pilots’ Association (AIPA) is one of the largest Associations of professional airline pilots in Australia. It represents nearly all Qantas pilots and a significant percentage of pilots flying for the Qantas subsidiaries. The Aviation Safety Regulation Review (ASRR) of 2014 reflected the most recently accepted breakdown of the industry as it was claimed GA covers those aviation activities that are not Regular Public Transport (airlines), sport and recreational aviation or similar businesses. In 2014 the drone industry was in its infancy, but since then, rapidly emerging UAS technologies produced an enormous number of unique technical solutions looking for problems to solve.
Today, Urban Air Mobility is the leading “solution”, aiming to introduce small passenger carrying aircraft based on new drone and eVTOL/STOL designs. They are usually powered by electric engines. These aircraft are now appearing around the globe and are designed to provide transport within very densely populated cities and surrounding urban residential areas. Their role is similar to the road-based taxi industry and are now being described as the new ‘air taxi industry’. They are marketed as a means of avoiding time-consuming delays due to traffic congestion on the roads. In some countries, they are used to minimise the risk of terrorist attacks; or the abduction of VIP business passengers or government officials by criminal gangs seeking lucrative ransoms.
One rather odd trend now coming under closer scrutiny is the love / hate relationship between the developing UAM technology and ground-based road systems. Promoters of the new air-taxi services are focusing on the inability of major road systems within densely populated areas to handle the road traffic required to move huge numbers of passengers travelling every day. The thousands airline passengers flying from a major airport could see an advantage in minimising exposure to unexpected traffic jams and missed flights. Many stressed business people have the view – “lost time is really lost money!”
Business consultants in the risk management industry are warning that the boost given to UAM investors due to choked road systems must be treated with caution. They predict a local government, when recognising they are not coping with the constant increase in population, may build more high-capacity road super highways, linked to high-speed underground rail systems. This could be catastrophic for UAM businesses, as their client base moves to the less-expensive renewed ground-based transport services.
There are several noteworthy examples:
Darling Harbour, Sydney
Darling Harbour, Sydney. In November 1985, a report titled ‘NO PORT IN A STORM’ was released by the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure on the Darling Harbour Landing Site Fiasco. The helicopter landing site opened in 1979 but was not included in the NSW State Government’s plans for the redevelopment of the whole Darling Harbour environment. As a result, the original landing site was eventually closed down in August 1985. However, the landing site had been sponsored by media mogul Kerry Packer, AC. Packer then needed the Darling Harbour site, in the Sydney CBD, as he often flew to Sydney Airport from the family’s country retreat at Ellerston, near Scone in NSW.
This did not happen for three reasons, which are still applicable to the introduction of UAM services in the Sydney CBD.
• Kerry Packer employed very experienced pilots who operated his large state-of-the-art multiengine helicopters which landed at Sydney International Airport. Media sources suggested VIPs such as Kerry Packer could only fly to landing sites within controlled airspace, thus providing the highest level of safety. Darling Harbour was outside controlled airspace and the monitoring of other light aircraft by air-traffic radar was not guaranteed due to the skyscrapers near the landing site.
• Fortunately, this restriction had little effect on Packer’s itineraries, as a new expressway had been built from the Sydney international airport to the CBD where his office was located. Understandably, this made the Darling Harbour facility less attractive to other senior executives. This confirms the need for investors to look out for advisories on new road proposals.
• The future importance and role of the Sydney CBD (and other similar CBDs) is constantly under review. During the Darling Harbour landing site studies, it was noted that the Sydney CBD was becoming more of a tourist centre as the surrounding suburbs were producing self-contained and constantly expanding business and shopping centres, thus changing demographics of the CBD and its potential as a market for future air taxi services. This has been suggested as one reason for the closure of the Darling Harbour landing site after it was not included in the government business plan for the redevelopment of the CBD at that time.
Nusantara is Indonesia’s New Capital
Nusantara is Indonesia’s new capital, to replace sinking Jakarta. On 19 January 2022, Indonesia announced the now former capital, had been dropping further into the Java Sea at an alarming rate due to the over-extraction of groundwater and the effects of climate change. It is also one of the world’s most overpopulated urban regions. It is home to more than 10 million people, with an estimated 30 million in the greater metropolitan area, according to the United Nations.
Nusantara is the Indonesian name of Maritime Southeast Asia. It is an Old Javanese term which literally means “outer islands”. In Indonesia, it is generally taken to mean the Indonesian Archipelago. Media sources report Indonesia is often referred to as the world’s largest archipelago, a name which aptly represents its 17,000 or so islands which span more than 5,000 kilometres eastward from Sabang in northern Sumatra to Merauke in Irian Jaya. If you superimpose a map of Indonesia over one of Europe, you will find that it stretches from Ireland to Iran; compared to the United States, it covers the area from California to Bermuda.
Indonesia owns the majority of Borneo, the world’s third-largest island, with Malaysia and Brunei each holding parts of its northern region. Nusantara is about 2,000 km north east from Jakarta. There will be five stages of development in the new capital city. The first stage is expected to begin in 2022 and run through 2024, with development expected to last until 2045. The ambitious project would likely cost around (USD$32 billion), CNN Indonesia has reported.
Various reports suggest this will be a great opportunity to plan a modern city with provision for many types of transport, including all forms of UAS and UAM activities.
Hopefully, this will provide enormous opportunities for South West Pacific nations, including Australia, to provide advanced technology production, workforce training and other technology development activities in conjunction with the Indonesian aviation industry.
It is hard for Australia with a population of only 26 million to visualise the magnitude of Nusantara which will probably have a population of around 30 million in a several decades. The current Indonesian population is 277 million.
The word “hybrid” is now a commonly used buzzword to describe overlapping technologies providing both flight capability and a means of generating power for routine operations. Put simply, older designs were referred to as VTOL/STOL or UAS. Now we have eVTOL aircraft with electric engines running off batteries. Some aircraft will have on-board conventional engines as used in a number of popular motor vehicles. But the introduction of miniaturised tilt rotor systems has allowed designers to achieve significant efficiencies which has resulted in higher cruising speeds and much-needed extra range performance.
The unmanned aircraft industry is now leading the rollout of very diversified technical capabilities which are replacing commercial work being undertaken by helicopters. This has been well documented over the past five years. The introduction of technical advances such as artificial intelligence, beyond line-of-sight capabilities, the availability of extremely efficient electric engines driving very efficient multirotor systems has attracted aviation investment funding not seen since World War II.
For reasons that are yet to be fully understood; the world suddenly listened to the numerous pioneers in the UAM world. The often somewhat confused and slow-moving bureaucracies associated with aviation development began preparing for new UAM systems being trialled in many areas across the world. Unexpectedly, the introduction of UAM services within large cities and associated high-density urban areas seem to be working well. The good news is anti-UAM protest groups have been slow to launch campaigns against the new industry. The main thrust, still on the horizon, will be against the providers of the infrastructure needed to allow air taxi operations to be established. They will try to force local governments (councils) to ban landing sites and the transit lanes required by UAM service providers to reach their clients.
As a result, global investors in the new industry would be nervously watching how the protesters are managing to force sovereign and local governments to restrict the growth of small eVTOL/STOL vehicles in their area of interest. No doubt the threat to the new commercial transport industry really comes from the joint ventures between politicians, powerful legal lobbyists and the media in all its forms.
Now only one decade away, the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, will provide a major boost for Australia’s rotorcraft industry. If the current helicopter annual growth rate continues at 7% per annum, then the existing helicopter fleet will grow from 2,500 to 5,200 over the decade. (CAGR). The UAS and UAM fleets may also undergo an enormous expansion similar to helicopter figures – at present, drone and UAM figures cannot be calculated, but they will be very significant. Brisbane and the nearby popular tourist areas are a dream come true for UAM researchers.
Skyportz launches first Australian electric air taxi hub for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brisbane.
Skyportz recently announced plans to build its first air taxi infrastructure in Australia at the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Centre of Excellence (AAMCE) in Moreton Bay, Brisbane, Australia in 2023. Skyportz CEO, Clem Newton-Brown, made the announcement at the Air Taxi World Congress in London on 13 October 2021.
“Skyportz has been accumulating sites in Australia since 2018 and we now have over 400 property partners ready to build out a Skyportz network. There is strong political support to develop a new era in clean, green electric aviation in Australia, however we are waiting on Federal standards and new State regulations to be developed before we can proceed to building a network. ”
Skyportz CEO, Clem Newton-Brown
we are focusing initially on existing aviation infrastructure and places where it is possible to get a permit for a helipad which can transition into a future Skyportz. The AACME site was already proposing a helipad, so this partnership has enabled us to bring forward our plans.
“Skyportz is simultaneously working with Australian Federal and State governments to help develop the standards, regulations and zones which will enable the Skyportz “mini airports” in new locations in and around cities and regional centres. There are over 300 electric air taxis start-ups around the world and the industry has seen over US$6 billion invested in the aircraft with three of the frontrunners, Lilium, Joby and Archer listing on the New York Stock exchange last month.”
“Without a Skyportz landing site network these aircraft are not going to be able to realise their full potential”, Clem Newton-Brown said.
“Our networks around the world will be available for all air taxi entrants but our first partner is the very exciting Electra Aero aircraft from USA.”
The Australian Advanced Manufacturing Centre of Excellence (AAMCE) will establish a world first, master- planned facility, just north of Brisbane’s CBD, focused on the fully integrated commercialisation of Intellectual Property (IP) developed in Australia, and manufactured in Australia for global export. The AAMCE proposes to rapidly establish sovereign capabilities across the country’s most critical sectors such as Defence, Space and Medical.
“We are particularly excited to be designing the first Australian Skyportz in Brisbane as part of the AAMCE. To us, it makes perfect sense the most advanced manufacturing centre in Australia should include the most advanced transport system possible in its design.
Brisbane is busily preparing for the Olympic Games in 2032, which will provide a great opportunity for the city to embrace a new form of transportation and showcase it to the world”, said Ty Hermans, Director of AAMCE. “The AAMCE site is perfectly suited to become a major transport hub and will support the future of air mobility. We are in the heart of the Moreton Bay region, just metres from a major metro linked train station, a leading Australian University, and the most advanced manufacturing centre in the country now attracting some of the world’s greatest companies. This will put Australia on the map, and we are very proud to be a partner of Skyportz in establishing this capability”, Ty Hermans said. “We expect that by 2032 we should have a well-established electric air taxi service in Brisbane if we get the support of all levels of Government”.
(For more info: www.skyportz.com)
On order – 100 Electra ESTOLs. In early October, Skyportz announced it had signed an agreement with US manufacturer Electra.aero to buy up to 100 hybrid electric aircraft that can take off and land in just 30 metres. Skyportz founder and chief executive Clem Newton-Brown said air taxis were no longer science fiction.
The Electra aircraft, can carry up to 800 kilograms of cargo and travel about 800 km (430 nautical miles. This is due to the hybrid design, which is not as noisy as helicopters and are cheaper to run because they have electric motors. Skyportz will be a preferred partner of Electra and has signed an agreement to buy up to 100 aircraft. A demonstration model is expected to come to Australia in 2023.
Mr Newton-Brown said he expected that it would take around five years for the Electra aircraft, which is due to begin flight testing in the US in 2022, to receive the regulatory approvals to operate in Australia.
They’re actually flying. Three of them went public in the last month in New York, there’s literally billions of dollars going into the front runners.
——Skyport founder and chief executive
A company media release has upgraded the specifications to a pilot plus seven passengers, or 1,000 kg cargo. Max sped 170 knots. (315 km/hr).
Typical Australian flight routes.
Subject to certification. Brisbane to Toowoomba. 125 km – 25 minutes.
Sydney to Newcastle. 169 km – 32 minutes.
Melbourne to Lakes Entrance. 215 km – 41 mins.
Australian Government funding.
It has been reported the planning for ‘mini-airports’ has attracted AUD$32.6 from the Commonwealth over the next two years in an emerging aviation technology program to test new ideas.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s role.
CASA is working on new regulations for drones and electric aircraft. A policy statement was released by the federal infrastructure department in May 2021 and claimed that new aviation technologies will lead to “safer, cheaper and more efficient movement of people and goods”.
The Rotorcraft Asia-Pacific Business Association (RAPBA) released a report showing that the number of helicopters in the region now totals 6,600. This is close to the European Union’s total of 6,890. RAPBA stated Australia with 2,471 and NZ 917 helicopters, have a total 3,388 helicopters, a little over half of the total APAC registrations.
The UAV industry in Australia is booming. After a decade of growth, the drone industry now has 30,000 registrations which outnumbers the 2,471 helicopter numbers 12:1. The 2,200+ drone commercial operators also outnumber the 270 helicopter Air Operations Certificate holders by around 8:1. The number of Australian helicopter commercial pilots (3,600) is dwarfed by the number of UAV commercial pilots (22,000).
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