An architect working on designs for some of the UK’s first drone ports says the profession should seize the opportunity to create infrastructure for the vehicles that will soon be ‘filling our skies’
London-based firm Barr Gazetas has been commissioned by new London-based start-up Skyports to identify locations for a network of ‘vertiports’ – landing and recharging spots for drones – on rooftops across the capital.
Skyports has so far bought the rights to 15 rooftops in London but hopes to ’scale things up’ significantly over the next 18 months. Initially, drones will carry cargo and packages, but the firm has said passenger vehicles will follow soon after.
Barr Gazetas managing director Jon Eaglesham said the ports present architects with a rare opportunity to design from a blank slate. He said: ‘Uber has published four or five studies [of vertiports] which range from ridiculous to exciting, but aesthetics are going to be hugely important.
’Rooftops will be transformed and the architectural world has a responsibility to help integrate this new infrastructure into the city.’
Eaglesham has been working with Skyports for a year, scouting out around 40 buildings as potential drone port locations, running fit-outs, meeting with civil aviation authorities and speaking to landlords about the benefits of installing the facilities on their roofs.
These include generating income, providing a new and more efficient means of waste collection as well as helping reduce congestion in the city centre and, adds Eaglesham, ‘providing your building with an amenity that sounds very futuristic’.
Skyports’ managing director Duncan Walker predicts that within the next five years, drone ports will become standard in building design. ’I think that these ports will become commonplace. Architects should be considering how they can be accommodated on their buildings in the future and designing the future operations into the base build.’
But while drone technology is incredibly advanced, the infrastructure and the ‘statutory implications’ of how the ports will be installed on buildings in the UK is lagging behind.
Walker said that civil aviation and planning authorities were the next step. He said: ’There are always hurdles in terms of urban planning, whether you are building a new house, an office block or introducing infrastructure for a new technology.
’We have had good engagement from the London boroughs so far around the concept but as with any planning application local issues will need to be considered and dealt with.’
In terms of design challenges architects might face, Eaglesham said the ports had to be ‘drone agnostic’ - able to accommodate different types of vehicles. ’Integrating these into buildings is a big step. It’s going to be like an airport with a runway where you can land lots of types of planes, so the design needs to have built-in flexibility.’
In addition to the planning system, Walker said there are hurdles in airspace regulation to overcome before the technology can take off in the UK. He said: ’}Drone flights must be conducted within the line of sight of the operator at the moment. That inhibits any meaningful deliveries by drone. Regulation around flights ”beyond visual line of sight” is what is required to make this a reality.’
Eaglesham said he thought there were some ‘social barriers’ to overcome first, but insisted that Londoners would be able to book a passenger drone within three years. ’Air taxis might feel like a futuristic invention, but they will be filling our skies before we know it.’
A recent PWC report said the drone market has the potential to increase the UK’s GDP by £42 billion by 2030 and predicted there will be more than 76,000 drones in flight by 2030.