Wisk Aero is advancing its plans for fully autonomous eVTOL air transport services through a new partnership with ground infrastructure and drone operations group Skyports. Announcing their collaboration on April 12, the companies published a draft concept of operations (ConOps) that they say is the first such document to map out how autonomous aircraft can be integrated with vertiports and how they will interact with the so-called providers of services for urban air mobility (PSUs).
Over the past couple of years, California-based Wisk has flight-tested its Cora two-seat autonomous eVTOL vehicle in the U.S. and New Zealand, logging more than 1,550 flights with this vehicle and earlier designs. It says it is working on a larger and possibly longer-range eVTOL aircraft but has declined to publish any performance details or specifications.
In January, Wisk received a $450 million investment from aerospace and defense giant Boeing, which jointly owns the company with Kitty Hawk. It has yet to publish a timeline for certifying the aircraft that it intends to operate itself. In February it said that it is working with the Southern California city of Long Beach on plans for urban air mobility (UAM) services. According to a spokesman, it is also considering other prospective cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, and Tokyo.
Wisk and Skyports hope that their proposed ConOps will be widely accepted as an industry-wide blueprint for autonomous eVTOL services. The partners say they will use the document as the basis for engagement with other companies in the advanced air mobility sector, as well as regulators and other stakeholders.
“We are excited to partner with Skyports, a leader in vertiports and UAM infrastructure,” said Wisk CEO Gary Gysin. “It is critical that future operations are autonomous for safety, scalability, and affordability. With this ConOps, Wisk and Skyports are helping to define those future operations while ensuring the long-term success and full potential of this industry.”
While acknowledging that most advanced air mobility services using eVTOL aircraft will begin with pilots on board, Wisk and Skyports maintain that autonomous operations will eventually take hold as the main basis for achieving a more-affordable, large-scale market for passenger transportation. Their partnership, which is effectively being kick-started with the release of the ConOps for consultation with stakeholders, is aimed at preparing for the new aircraft to be safely integrated with all the required supporting infrastructure.
The ConOps document outlines how existing infrastructure and air transportation procedures will need to be upgraded and retrofitted to take into account safety requirements for autonomous flights. It also addresses how the partners see autonomous eVTOL vehicles interacting with new purpose-built UAM infrastructure that will need to be designed to work with various aircraft types and multiple operators with diverse business models.
UK-based Skyports already has partnerships to develop UAM infrastructure and services with several other companies, including eVTOL aircraft developer Eve and South Korea’s Hanwha group. In March, it completed a $23 million Series B funding round to support its plans to develop vertiports in countries worldwide.
“It is important that the infrastructure built today can accommodate the aircraft of tomorrow,” said Skyports CEO Duncan Walker. “We are thrilled to be partnered with Wisk as they push the bounds of aircraft systems innovation. This ConOps and our continued work on the development of vehicle-agnostic vertiports and ground-based infrastructure will ensure that this industry is well prepared to safely integrate autonomous operations.”