With a background in law, politics, and transport services, Clem Newton-Brown is well placed to facilitate the development of vertiports in Australia and to help connect the various moving pieces of the local advanced air mobility (‘AAM’) puzzle. Through Skyportz, his team is working to assemble the expertise and investment needed to make this happen, to ensure that the landing infrastructure is available when the eVTOL aircraft are certified to fly.
With the Australian Government expressing support for AAM development at the federal level and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority proactively building the regulatory and safety framework to facilitate operations, Australia has the opportunity to be a leader in this space, and Clem kindly shared with us more detail on how those opportunities are playing out on the ground.
1.AS: The role of Skyportz in AAM in Australia has evolved substantially over the course of its short life, moving from supporting the Victorian Government on single bid with Uber, to identifying and securing potential vertiport sites all over the country, and now to unveiling the design for the first planned vertiport at Caribbean Park. How would you describe what Skyportz does at the moment, and what is the next stage you are working on?
CN-B: We are focused on three things:
- Advancing the rules and regulations and political support to break the nexus between aviation and airports to enable vertiports in new locations.
- Assembling property partnerships who want to part of a future vertiport network.
- Developing prototype vertiports.
2. AS: You’ve observed that it might be the case that governments assume the initial costs of developing the major pieces of the infrastructure puzzle for air taxis, in the same way they might for other transportation assets like roads and railways. Now that the first vertiport design has been released, do you have a clearer sense of how public funds and private investment will be used to make this a reality?
CN-B: Given there is no business case yet for activating vertiports I believe Governments that want to get ahead of the game will have to invest in a vertiport network backbone to kick start the industry.
In the prime inner city sites there is simply not room for competing vertiports so it makes sense for Government to build, own and operate these major vertiport sites.
3. AS: One of the major issues in landing infrastructure will be getting local planning approvals, and presumably this approval regime is not yet fully developed. How receptive are you finding property developers, carpark facilities, shopping centres, etc. to the idea that they should be setting aside valuable real estate now to construct vertiports later, for eVTOL assets that aren’t yet operational?
CN-B: For property owners it is a no brainer to be interested in hosting vertiports. A vertiport will provide a new income stream and will also raise the rents of other tenancies that can make use of the services a vertiport will provide (both goods and people moving).
The problem is that we are way ahead of the curve and it will be some years before activation can occur. However, nonetheless many property owners want to get on for the ride now and are finding that they are still getting great benefits from a marketing perspective.
4. AS: Skyportz has constructed a network of investment partners as well as a network of landing sites, and is working towards fundraising. How would you describe the investor appetite to get involved with these assets at this point in time?
CN-B: The investor profiles are primarily visionaries who can see that this is likely to be an enormous industry with significant gains for those that jump on board early. It is a gamble and there are few reliable numbers to stack up to justify investment.
As a provider of essential vertiport infrastructure these aircraft need us to fulfil their potential. Most investors in Skyportz take comfort in the fact that $10B has been invested into aircraft with no clear business plan or path to ROI. It is clear the aircraft are coming and the massive investment in developing them will need to be doubled down into infrastructure.
We expect that we will be a very valuable partner to anyone who is ready to invest in building out a network of landing sites and operating a launch service
5. AS: What are the particular opportunities for investors and financiers that AAM offers in Australia, which might differ to the opportunities in other locations?
CN-B: Google came to Australia to trial their Wing delivery services for many reasons and Advanced Air Mobility will be attracted in the same way. Our regulator CASA is fully behind this industry, we have stable weather and electricity grids, we have wide open spaces which will be necessary for early routes to operate safely and strong political and investment support.
At Skyportz we are soon to close an ASIC regulated crowdfundraise through the Birchal platform which is a rare opportunity for small investors to own a piece of equity in this industry (https://www.birchal.com/company/skyportz).
Thank you very much Clem!