Vertiports – the key to UAM/AAM infrastructure | How are they different from heliports?

A recent study by NASA stated that there could be as many as 500 million drone delivery flights and nearly 750 million air taxi flights annually by 2030.

2021 had been a significant year for the AAM industry as we saw record millions being poured in as investments – just this year, Wisk Aero received $450 million from Boeing to develop eVTOL aircraft and Lockheed Martin Ventures invested in – a pioneer in the development of hybrid-electric ultra-short takeoff and landing aircraft. These are just to name a few.

Representative | eVTOL

While all these sound great, keeping the aspect of safety aside, do we really have the appropriate infrastructure to handle these vehicles and their operations?

A lot of other variables need to be factored in with regards to air management systems, security protocols, emergency services, and regulatory frameworks as well, that would support safe, affordable, sustainable flights.

Business leaders, engineers, designers, regulators, and all other concerned parties will have to collaborate to ensure the safe and seamless integration of AAM with existing infrastructure.

Bringing the public and private sectors together is crucial  “because the public sector, in the end, is going to want to use these systems. New corridors are emerging, whether it’s for a 55-pound drone carrying medical supplies or cargo-carrying type aircraft that are heavier.

Said Lisa Peterson, VP of Business Development at Airspace Link at a recent Commercial UAV News webinar

Vertiports are the basic enablers of Urban and Advanced Air Mobility (UAM/AAM), facilitating the movement of people and goods more rapidly and efficiently than traditional transport infrastructures.

Air One Vertiport- World’s first Vertiport in Coventry, UK | Representative | FLYING Magazine

“Vertistops” is yet another term coined and they would serve only for drop-off and pickups, while vertiports would be somewhere where the aircraft could recharge (electric aircraft), refuel (hydrogen aircraft), and pass through maintenance.

How are they different from heliports?

A heliport is a small airport suitable for helicopter use and some other vertical lift aircraft. Designated heliports typically contain one or more touchdown and liftoff areas and may also have limited facilities such as fuel or hangars.

EASA issues the world’s first design specifications for vertiports

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has published the world’s first guidance for the design of vertiports and the ground infrastructure needed for the safe operation of Urban Air Mobility services such as air taxis in locations across Europe, including in urban areas.

Urban air mobility is a completely new field of aviation and we therefore have a unique opportunity to develop a set of infrastructure requirements from scratch. With the world’s first guidance for safe vertiport operations, EASA’s ambition is to provide our stakeholders with the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to safe vertiport design and operational frameworks. By harmonising design and operational standards for vertiports we will support European industry, who are already starting to embark on exciting projects in Europe and around the world to make new urban air mobility a reality

Patrick Ky, Executive Director of EASA said
Representative | easa.europe

One notable innovation is the concept of a funnel-shaped area above the vertiport, designated as an “obstacle-free volume”. This concept is tailored to the operational capabilities of the new VTOL aircraft, which can perform landing and take-off with a significant vertical segment.

Depending on the urban environment and on the performance of certain VTOL-capable aircraft, omnidirectional trajectories to vertiports will be also possible. Such approaches can more easily take account of environmental and noise restrictions and are more suitable for an urban environment than conventional heliport operations.

EASA | Youtube

Heliports-how are they any different?

Regulators calculate the size of a heliport by using the rotor diameter to calculate the Touch-Down and Lift-Off area (TLOF), the Final Approach and Take-Off area (FATO), and the safety area—a defined area surrounding the FATO intended to reduce the risk of damage to aircraft accidentally diverging from the FATO.


 AAM VTOL aircraft, being different from helicopters, regulators will probably use the maximum dimension of the VTOL rather than the rotor diameter to calculate the size of the vertiports.

Representative | eVTOL

A lot goes into the designing of vertiports because of their dynamic operations. Vertiports would require charging ports and hence one key consideration is access to electricity. Handling multiple eVTOLS would require vertiports to have their substation. That said, building substations could be trickier and harder than ‘gas stations’.

Helicopters, on the other hand, aren’t electric and hence that eliminates the need for access to electricity/charging points. A heliport has support facilities such as fuel, “hangaring” and attendants.

Elevated rooftop helipads and heliports | Representative | Aluminium Offshore

All international standards have space requirements (both on land and in the air) for an obstacle-free area for the aircraft to land and takeoff. The standards for touchdown area sizes (the pad itself) are generally predicated on the size of the aircraft landing gear footprint or the rotor diameter.

The obstacle-clear areas surrounding the touchdown area are generally determined by a multiplier of the aircraft’s overall length or rotor system size. They can vary from an open area of 64′ x 64′ for a small two-seat helicopter to 109′ x 109′ for a medium twin-engine helicopter and up to several acres for facilities serving multiple aircraft.

How safe are heliports or vertiports?

Safety is paramount in aviation. The FAA, with its data and that of the National Transportation Safety Board, conducted a study that calculated that an accident had the frequency of occurring once every 432 years – this was done by looking at the relative risk a community had about a helicopter landing area.

Representative | eUAS News

Summarizing, it could be said that vertiports and heliports are stopping points for VTOL aircraft. Ideally, they would be located on top of buildings, open areas, or airports. Both can serve as a quick-stops-loading and unloading, or as a longer stay for recharging (electric aircraft), refuelling (hydrogen or fossil fuels aircraft) and maintenance.


COVER: American Aerospace

Related Articles