The development of advanced air mobility, including low emission flying EVs, continues to evolve at pace. Arup worked with Urban-Air to create an operational base for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, including flying taxis and delivery drones in Coventry. This prototype design provides a blueprint for 200 planned hubs worldwide over the next five years.

Arup’s role spanned airport planning, structural engineering and BIM modelling on the design of the proposed Urban-Air hub. Our work with Urban-Air gave visitors the chance to experience Air One’s vertiport concept and see live drone flights, aircraft command and control, eVTOL charging and cargo loading in action. The hub is designed to be highly sustainable and can be operated completely off-grid, using zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cells.

Beyond the technological innovations contained in the vehicles themselves, one of the major challenges to new forms of aviation is developing a safe, scalable and effective infrastructure at ground level. This demonstration project was a useful opportunity to test viability with likely end users, including cargo and freight businesses, taxi operators, police units and other stakeholders. By developing a robust, replicable and cost effective design, Arup demonstrated that a new generation of sustainable air travel solutions can be realised.

A video still of Air One
Learn how Arup supported the development of the world's first vertical take off hub for delivery drones.

Structural engineering

Urban-Air Port challenged us to engineer an ultra-compact, fully demountable structure they could rapidly deploy in diverse environments. So, we made every component as small and light as possible. Lightweight cladding – with fabric stretched eight metres between support legs – reduces the need for structural supports and allows daylight to flow through.

A key challenge was how to set the 48m structure firmly on uneven ground, without breaking the surface for foundations. We incorporated two levels of adjustment in the supports, with ballast to resist uplift and sliding. This was vital to the success of the project, as the first location for the hub was a city centre car park that had to be returned intact to the local authority. To avoid the need for a lift pit, we also devised a new lifting platform, transforming horizontal arrays of chain link into vertical arrays.

The opening of Air-One is a momentous moment – the starting gun for a new age of transport, an age of zero-emission, congestion-free travel between and within cities that will make people healthier, happier and more connected than ever before.

Ricky Sandhu

Founder and Executive Chairman of Urban-Air Port

Airport planning

Airport planning is always concerned with how new aviation infrastructure fits with the existing landscape of transport services, communities and the wider built environment.

As a design solution, Air-One’s fast construction opens up a world of possibilities for rapid response air mobility, with drones transporting emergency supplies and people at short notice. Its compact footprint also means it can be located in the centre of towns and cities, for seamless passenger journeys and deliveries.

BIM modelling and digital design

Smart 3D modelling was central to the speed at which Air-One was designed and constructed. We used visual programming language Grasshopper to define the geometry, Rhino computer-aided design (CAD) to transfer the information into GSA for analysis and Revit to generate the drawings. Working collaboratively with the fabricator, we shared 3D models at an early stage, marking up changes and comments directly on a ‘digital twin’ to streamline production.

Recognising that there’s no one more important in shaping a place than the people who will be using it, we also worked collaboratively with drone operators and aircraft controllers who gave insights into visibility, operation of the lifting platform and user safety.

British innovation has a rich history of transforming global transportation, from the creation of the railroads in the 1800s, to the growth of great British brands such as Jaguar, Triumph and Rover in the 1950s. The opening of Air-One, backed by Government funding, will revolutionise the way people and goods travel across the nation.

Robert Courts

Minister for Aviation