back to article UK Civil Aviation Authority ponders vertiports for flying taxis

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is looking at design proposals for vertiports at existing aerodromes as the UK begins deliberation over the potential arrival of air taxis. While electrically powered vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft – or air taxis, if you will – continue to teeter on the edge of science …

  1. Antony Shepherd

    Flying cars???

    Flying cars are the least of two words - drives better than a Cessna, flies better than a Buick, as they said.

    Surprised nobody's thought of bringing back Fairey Rotodynes from Battersea Heliport!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm really not sure I understand what the CAA is saying here.... I'd have thought that helicopters are permitted to fly from most of the aerodromes they are referring to, so nothing is really changing, apart from the fact that flying cars can't autorotate and rely on redundancy in having extra rotors in the event of a single rotor failure, which will no doubt be regulated separately from whether helicopters and other vtol aircraft can operate from a given location.

    1. Anonymous Cowpilot

      It's mostly a plea for budget from the CAA - but helicopters and VTOL drones have very different performance and flight profiles, including single rotor failure, as you indicate, but also including how they turn and the most energy-efficient paths for taxi, take-off, and landing. There is certainly some work to do here, if for no other reason than to make politicians and those responsible for legislating and budgeting for these things aware of the (much more significant than people realize) differences.

  3. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

    "Trains spring effortlessly to mind but lack the "cool" factor of a flying taxi."

    They also lack affordability, running-on-time-or-at-all-ness and have been known to suffer from the wrong-kind-of-leaves-on-the-line-ness. Parsnips on the line at Charing cross is probably just a rumour.

    Flying taxis, on the other hand, may well be cool, but I don't think I'd be travelling in one any time soon, and I suspect lots of others wouldn't trust them either.

    Still, there will always be some brave early adopters willing to risk life and limb to some self-flying contraption, so I guess it makes sense to plan ahead.

    1. jmch Silver badge

      Trains are also constrained to run anywhere there are tracks, and its notoriously difficult to run any new tracks anywhere where there aren't already any tracks (largest HS2 issue was nimbys not wanting new tracks around). VTOL aircraft can go point-to-point.

      Current VTOLS eg helicopters are extremely loud, and have that single-rotor single point of failure, making it important to limit potential flight paths and have quite heavy regulation. e-Taxis that rely on electric motors and 4 or more rotors improve on both those points, so one would imagine that they could be licensed to fly in some places where helicopters aren't. Not to say, of course, that they should be completely let loose!

      1. Anonymous Cowpilot

        An e-VTOL that loses a rotor is harder to control than a helicopter that loses its main rotor because a helicopter in autorotation is still subject to fairly balanced forces, whereas the rotors of the e-VTOL are no longer balanced (it will pull in the direction opposite to the missing rotor and will be very difficult to get it to go in any other direction, including straight down.

        1. Jan 0 Silver badge


          A helicopter that has lost its rotor is not going to autorotate, it's going to "autoplunge".

          A helicoptor that has lost power may still be able to autorotate

      2. tfewster

        They're not taxis

        "travel between cities and airports" - More like a shuttle service between approved vertiports than a go-anywhere taxi.

        Besides, being VTOL, they don't need to taxi to a runway ;-)

        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

          Re: They're not taxis

          I just don't see the point in flying taxis that mean you need to take another 2 taxis to get to and from the flying taxi. Which makes it more like a private plane or chopper, and about as accessible to the general population.

          1. John Routledge

            Re: They're not taxis

            Bingo. That's the biggest real issue with these, and is the reason no one uses helicopters as taxis. Making a battery operated helicopter doesn't solve any of the fundamental problems with their business model.

        2. Anonymous Cowpilot

          Re: They're not taxis

          Helicopters still have to taxi to a runway or helipad; they aren't generally allowed to just go up from where they are because they may be under an approach track. Most helicopters will hover-taxi, but some will ground-taxi. However having a helicopter take off vertically is incredibly inefficient. Having an e-VTOL take off vertically is the most fuel-efficient route, so this is one of the things they need to figure out for "vertiports".

      3. Martin Gregorie

        Re:Going point to point

        This is likely to present an identical problem once again: we've had a few cases since 2000: The problem is best described as hordes of strangers in my gliding club's circuit, just bimbling through our overhead without keeping looking out for our local traffic - and gliding clubs are busy on good days with anything up to 400 launches in a day.

        First the problem was GA traffic overflying us while keeping outside the M.25 during the Olympics.

        Then it was small helis blasting through our overhead at little more than 1200 ft, i.e below the advisory minimum height

        Finally it was GA traffic with moving map systems and evidently misreading them.

        The first and last two were more or less just nuisances, but the middle one (below advisory height in our overhead) is an actively dangerous place to be over any gliding club with a winch - and almost all UK gliding clubs have winches and use them whenever the weather's any good.. The issue is that if you enter our airspace below 2000 ft you're likely to interfere with both winch launches and gliders joining the landing circuit: my club has a 1Km grass runway which we usually fly from and, because of this, we are marked on maps as having a minimum safe crossing height of 3000 ft.

        We usuallly launch from this one because its aligned with the prevailing wind. In normal conditjons we'll be flying landing circuits below 800ft BUT on a good day using it we'll be launching to typically. 1400-1800 ft and possibly higher: with a strong breeze and good wind gradient I've had an SZD Junior up to 2750 ft at the top of the winch.

        Another time I got a sudden overspeed at 1000ft on the winch, got off quick rather than pulling the wings off, then thought it might be a thermal, so hauled the wheel up and headed down the centre of the strip and found a very nice thermal at 950ft. It was a light drift day, so I was over 2000ft when the thermal and I crossed the launch point, over 3500ft and climbing at 1500 fpm by the time I'd gone a mile downwind and then had to abandon that thermal at 4500ft sharpish because Stanstead Airspace starts over us at 5000ft - and you NEVER go there! I've always wondered how high I could have ridden it if the Stanstead CTR wasn't there!

        1. RPF

          Re: Re:Going point to point

          Deeply ironic that a glider pilot should complain about other traffic encroaching "their" airspace, when sites like Dunkeswell deliberately infringe EGTE approach path all the time *serious risk to airliners). Most glider pilots are in the "know just enough to be dangerous" bracket.

      4. John Routledge

        And yet...

        So far, evtols have a worse safety record even than helicopters. The VX4 prototype (mentioned in the article) was destroyed in a crash last year, hence the need for a new certificate from the CAA. And the other front runner, Joby, similarly had a crash which destroyed the aircraft in 2022. Fortunately they were remotely piloted in both cases.

        It's one thing being safer in theory, but the real world has a habit of sending icebergs towards your unsinkable ships.

    2. /\/\j17

      "Trains spring effortlessly to mind but lack the "cool" factor of a flying taxi."

      "They also lack affordability..."

      Yea, you might change your mind on the affordability of flying taxis once you look at what the cost of a journey in one of them's going to cost.

      Assuming you're 'calling' a taxi to come to A (in this context an "existing aerodrome") and take you B (another "existing aerodrome") you've got a pair of landing fees to pay for, so based on the Argyll & Bute council prices (first detailed ones to pop up on Google) that's at least £13.50 at each end, quite likely £18:50 or even £27.00 (aircraft weight under 500kg/500kg to 1000kg/100kg to 1500kg). And those are prices for a fairly small, quite airfield. Prices say in/around London... And of course that's before the cost of the journey.

  4. DrABarclay

    Don't expect this to go anywhere quickly.

    > The UK has hundreds of aerodromes dotted around the country...

    Not hundreds, around 75-100 licensed aerodromes in the UK. You can lookup on CAA website.

    Mostly situated "not-in-my-back-yard" because folks complain about them and are constantly trying to get them shutdown (because current aviation is noisy).

    Take the train if you want to get anywhere close to your city destination. Go to an aerodrome if you want to be in the countryside.

    And don't expect this to be inexpensive. Virtually all aerodromes in the UK charge landing fees, and currently expect the aircraft 'pilot / automaton' to communicate with the Ground/Tower in order to receive navigation instructions. Otherwise, how will they be able to avoid the other aircraft (typically with human pilots) also using the aerodrome, following Standard Operating Procedures.

    Yes, all of this will 'sort-out', but it won't be "next year".

    BTW Flying taxis have existed for around 75 years already and they're called Helicopters.

  5. Dr Dan Holdsworth

    light monorail?

    To be honest, I'd say that light elevated monorail is a much better bet if you want fairly quick, fairly easily installed light transport between cities.

    A monorail solves quite a few of the way leave problems because it is elevated above the ground, and if constructed of decent materials then the pylons and track can be made to be fairly unobtrusive. The carriages suspended from the monorail need not be particularly large, obtrusive or noisy either since they can use solid rubber-composite wheels instead of steel, which reduces rail wear and noise. Power isn't now an issue either; you simply run the vehicles from onboard batteries, with a pair of recharge rails set every so often along the length of the tracks.

    Power and rails normally cause problems, but not if these are five metres off the ground as these would be.

    The only thing that light monorail cannot do is shift heavy loads very well, or shift loads at extreme speeds. However in a city speeds would be limited to about 20 mph, and to 50 or so out of cities. Doesn't sound much, but that's better than a lot of motorways these days and the infrastructure is much, much less obtrusive.

    1. R Soul Silver badge

      Re: light monorail?

      "I'd say that light elevated monorail is a much better bet if you want fairly quick, fairly easily installed light transport between cities."

      They didn't work out so well in Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook.

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