Drone cargo services and air taxis on unmanned flights part of plan for Ireland’s first such facility
THE people planning Ireland’s first vertiport, in Shannon, are looking ahead to 2026’s Ryder Cup when unmanned flights could be ferrying passengers from the airport to Adare Manor.
Air taxi services such as this are one near term goal for the facility, with extensive possiblilities also to be explored in the cargo distribution and delivery area.
An agreement has been reached between Shannon Group and three other bodies to develop the passenger and cargo vertiport, which would be located adjacent to the airport.
Shannon Group, Skyports, Future Mobility Campus Ireland and Avtrain all signed a memorandum of understanding on the project and are working to develop the facility by the end of next year. A long term goal is to establish the country’s first air taxi service.
Explaining what a vertiport is, Julie Garland, CEO of Avtrain said, “It’s a bit like a helicopter pad that a drone is going to land on. The idea of a vertiport is that it’s more than just that landing area, it’s also a charging area, because most of the aircraft that we’ll be looking to use will be electrically powered.
“It would have a passenger terminal. It’s like a miniature airport all in one bubble, with charging and the accessibity for passengers.”
While three sites are being looked at still, the frontrunner is across the road from Starbucks. “We’ve got various different sites,” said Ms Garland, “One of them is opposite Startbucks, across the road from it. It’s literally on the perimeter fence of Shannon Airport and the idea is that it’s the integration of manned and unmanned aircraft. It’s literally at the perimeter fence of Shannon, on the other side, so we have this full integration.”
She said they are hoping to prove the viability of the concept of unmanned flights at Shannon and one day in the future there could be many vertiports.
“The idea would be that we would roll this out as an infrastructure project, that these would be based everywhere, that you could operate from vertiport to vertiport.”
They plan to show that their concept can work well and step one to using existing technology is conducting Beyond Visual Line of Sight tests.
“We’ll be doing proof of concept flights from Shannon to Limerick City, to Foynes to Ennis, and all of those will be Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights. Now they’re with a much smaller aircraft, an aircraft below 25kg.
“We’re not looking at carrying passengers immediately, we’re looking at proof of concept for Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights, which is really important, because that’s the stepping stone to having the passenger-carrying flights.”
The consortium has begun working towards launching beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) proof-of-concept operations as early as September.
These flights will demonstrate the viability of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and highlight the benefits that research and investment in Advanced Aerial Mobility will bring to urban and rural areas of Ireland.
On potential for the facility in the longer term, she said, “If you wanted to transit cargo from Foynes port to Shannon Airport, you could use these, take stuff off ships to the airport for distribution around Europe.
“The other thing is if you take the likes of the Ryder Cup happening in the region around 2026 and the plan for the amount of cruise ships that’ll be moored as mobile hotels, all of those passengers need to be brought off those cruise ships and there’s no reason for them not to come in by unmanned aircraft rather than putting them onto ships and boats going in and out.”
Those collaborating in this venture are: Skyports, a leading passenger air taxi and cargo drone vertiport provider; Future Mobility Campus Ireland (FMCI), Ireland’s first testbed for future mobility located next to Shannon Airport; Avtrain, a leading drone training and certification body; and Shannon Group’s International Aviation Services Centre, which supports and promotes one of Ireland’s largest aviation clusters located at Shannon.
John Drysdale, Business Development Manager at Shannon Group, said: “Collaborating with stakeholders who are experts in their field will provide a robust platform to develop new technologies and innovations in this exciting sector.
“The Shannon Campus will provide an ideal incubation space within which the future of mobility can be developed in a collegial manner bringing great opportunities to the region.”