Preparing for Advanced Air Mobility: Port San Antonio Plans Construction of eVTOL Vertiport

Port San Antonio vertiportPort San Antonio vertiportAdvancing Aviation and Innovation: Port San Antonio Launches Construction of State-of-the-Art eVTOL Vertiport

By DRONELIFE Features Editor Jim Magill

Port San Antonio, located on the site of the former Kelly Air Force Base, plans to build a state-of-the-art vertiport for housing and deploying electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) aircraft as part of a $100 million airfield renovation effort.

Construction of the vertiport has long been a part of the vision of Port CEO Jim Perschbach to establish the Port as an innovation hub to attract leading industry and government players in the advanced aviation, transportation, cybersecurity and communications industries.

“We became very attracted by advanced air mobility and particularly the opportunities that it holds for a couple of reasons,” Perschbach said in an interview. “One, I just love all things aviation. But two, as we go to grow our campus, we have a pressing need, and a growing need to find ways to move people on and off this place.”

The Port is in discussions with several manufacturers of eVTOL aircraft, which potentially could establish a base of operations at the Port. Construction of the vertiport, which is expected to include takeoff and landing sites, hangar space and charging facilities, is expected to get underway soon, with groundbreaking to be held next month. The facility expected to be ready for commercial eVTOL operations within five years.

“There’s still work to be done on the physical design, the design of the charging infrastructure and everything else that will go with it, as well as the design of the air corridor that will be used for both approach and departure, as well as how it will integrate with the rest of our campus,” Perschbach said.

Financing for the project will be derived from multiple sources, including federal and state money earmarked for construction of aviation facilities, with the Port incorporating the construction of the vertiport into the overall airfield renovation. The Port will consolidate some of its existing airside facilities, including its fixed-base operator, which provides aviation services such as fueling, and some of its smaller hangars to make more room on its airfield to accommodate larger airplanes.

Perschbach said there are still questions as to how some aspects of the vertiport’s construction, such as installing underground utility lines and charging infrastructure, will be accounted for and whether they will be classified as aviation-related expenses.

Building an advanced aviation facility on the campus simply marks the next step in the Port’s evolution from a former Air Force base to public-private innovation hub focused on fostering the growth of critical infrastructure industries and disruptive technologies, Perschbach said.

“What we are doing is running the campus largely to attract industries and government agencies that are focused on critical infrastructure writ large,” he said.

While the establishment of a base for eVTOL aircraft, commonly referred to as “flying taxis,” will help serve the transportation needs of the Port itself, carrying passengers and cargo across the 1,900-acre campus, the vertiport could eventually be able to expand its transportation services into the wider San Antonio community, Perschbach said.

The Port currently has about 18,000 employees, almost half of whom have been added in the past six years. Plans call for the addition of another 12,000 to 18,000 employees over the next seven to 10 years.

Initially built as a military installation, Kelly Air Force Base was designed to be located at the end of the road and somewhat difficult to get to. “Now as it’s becoming much more of a center for technology and talent integration, we need to make it easier to get to,” Perschbach said.

“We own residential land, commercial land. We have airfield operators that need to move goods from one end of the runway to the other. And we’ve got the need to move people around our campus,” he said. “Building roads, building parking structures, building parking lots becomes both very expensive and inefficient.”

In addition, the vertiport’s eVTOL transportation services eventually could be expanded into the surrounding community, using the city’s network of park-and-ride lots as takeoff and landing sites. “There’s one called the Kel-Lac Park and Ride, not too far away from here, between us and Lackland Air Force Base on Highway 90,” Perschbach said. “That would be a wonderful use-case proof to do a relatively short flight over to our vertiport and back.”

He said eVTOL technology is developing rapidly and he expects it to be commercially viable in time for the opening of the vertiport. Several eVTOL manufacturers have announced that they expect to have achieved FAA certification for their aircraft within the next year or two.

“The early aircraft certainly are going to have pilots, and I think they’re going to operate much more closely to traditional aviation,” Perschbach said. However, he added that as the technology advances and as public acceptance of the new form of transportation grows, autonomous eVTOL flights carrying passengers could be on the horizon.

The Port itself will do its part to encourage the public to embrace the new technology.

“One of the things I’d like to do is bring operators in to use these aircraft — in, for lack of a better word, theme-park style environments — which is not that dissimilar to what the airlines did in the 1930s by taking pictures of the stars getting onto and off their planes to build up a level of public acceptance,” Perschbach said.

“I think that the population on our campus is more likely to be first adopters.  We have a tremendous number of people who are veterans who are involved in the aviation industry,” he said. “And so, you can expect them to be much more comfortable with aviation in general, particularly things that seem like the evolution of aviation.”

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Jim mug2Jim mug2Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Miriam McNabbMiriam McNabb

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.


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