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UDOT, USU studying future of ‘vertiport’ concept in Utah, offer demonstration

By Rob Nielsen - | May 22, 2024

Rob Nielsen, Standard-Examiner

A Bell 505 helicopter lifts off to help demonstrate the vertiport concept to attendees of the Utah Aeronautics Conference in Layton on Monday, May 20, 2024.

LAYTON — Vertiports dotting the Wasatch Front may very well be a key piece of the transportation puzzle for residents, visitors and commerce decades from now — and the Utah Department of Transportation and others are looking to be ready for that date.

During this year’s Utah Aeronautics Conference in Layton, a demonstration conducted by UDOT and Utah State University showed the potential of a vertiport.

“The demonstration represents an important first step in showcasing how air taxis and drone deliveries can safely and seamlessly operate close to homes and businesses with minimal impacts,” a press release on Monday’s demonstration read. “It represents the culmination of years of in-depth research funded by UDOT and conducted by USU.”

UDOT Aeronautics Director Matthew Maass told the Standard-Examiner that a vertiport “is a defined area where a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft might take off from or land,” and that such aircraft “in the future, could be carrying packages or passengers.”

Maass said there’s a major distinction between a vertiport and a traditional heliport/airport.

“The vertiport is specifically designed for the electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (abbreviated eVTOLs), which differ a bit from your helicopters and heliports,” he said. “In the Federal Aviation Administration’s engineering brief, the initial designs do stem from the initial designs of a heliport, so when you look at the markings, they are going to be very similar.”

The concept of a standalone vertiport is new. The FAA only released its design standards in 2022, while the first public vertiport in the United States — located on the grounds of the Allen C. Perkinson Blackstone Army Airfield in Blackstone, Virginia — received FAA certification in October 2023.

Maass said no vertiports exist in Utah at the moment, nor are any under construction at this time.

“It’s something a lot of states are working on and the FAA is working on,” he said. “We know that vertiports are going to be needed here in the not-too-distant future.”

He estimated it could be around five to 10 years before implementation of vertiports into the transportation landscape of Utah begins.

In the meantime, UDOT is preparing for the eventuality.

“Currently, we are doing a lot of studies and taking a look at locations in the state,” he said. “I don’t think the idea is to have vertiports on every corner next to 7-Elevens. I think vertiports are going to be located strategically throughout the Wasatch Front. That is going to benefit the larger communities to help to transport packages and people around the state. In so doing, it’s going to help remove cars off the road, help with congestion, help with the carbon-footprint — there’s a lot of benefits to this.”

Brent Chamberlain, associate professor in landscape, architecture and environmental planning at USU, told the Standard-Examiner that he’s working with UDOT’s Division of Aeronautics on the vertiport concept.

“We are developing a range of different planning tools to help communities think about vertiports and vertistops,” he said, noting that they are currently working on the third study with UDOT.

According to Chamberlain, the third study looks at “existing and vacant parking lots that could potentially be used to develop more operational-level demonstrations and commerce.”

Previous studies, he said, have looked at viable locations for vertiports and creating a guidebook for local officials on how the technology can be integrated into their communities.

Monday’s demonstration of a vertiport — which UDOT proclaimed to be the first such demonstration ever to be held in the state — included utilizing an empty parking lot adjacent to the Davis Conference Center where the Utah Aeronautics Conference was underway. Conference attendees and other stakeholders were invited out to the parking lot where a section was marked off with the markings that would make up a vertiport. The demonstration included a Bell 505 helicopter and attendees were given ear plugs to bring down the noise level to what officials believe will be the normal noise levels for eVTOLs that would normally be using a vertiport. The helicopter hovered at different levels and landed to give people a sense of the noise level at various distances.

“We’re looking to get some real demos and some feedback from participants that are here,” Chamberlain said. “This is information we’re going to take back and filter into this tool — this guidebook — that we can use to help communicate.”

Borja Martos, Flight-Level Engineering founder and CEO, said Monday’s demonstration largely represented what people will visually see with a vertiport.

“(The helicopter) is bigger than the eVTOL vehicles,” he said. “But it’s representative in terms of weight and size. It’s, hopefully, much louder than these electric vehicles.”

Maass said part of the point of the demonstration Monday was to show how nonintrusive a vertiport could be to a surrounding neighborhood.

“It’s to help the communities understand that they are going to be a lot quieter than what they typically think a helicopter is,” he said.

Chamberlain said the guidebook will be publicly available at some point, but it could take a few more years before all the necessary data is gathered. He is hopeful a public report on the study’s progress will be available in the next six to eight months.

“We see this as a way to support transportation in the state of Utah,” he said. “It’s going to be another tool. It’s not designed to replace anything, but as technologies advance, it is definitely an opportunity for us to help expedite travel and to help mitigate some of the congestion we see on the roads. I think it’s a benefit for the state.”


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