Advanced Air Mobility Profile

Transforming Transportation

Transforming Transportation

In his more than three decades in the aviation industry, Kevin Cox has yet to see a moment that is as exciting as what the advanced air mobility (AAM) industry is currently witnessing.

In a few short years, the first electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles are set to take off, and when they do, will forever alter the way in which people move in and around cities, he says. “Most people really don’t appreciate how close we are to eVTOLs coming to fruition,” notes Cox, Chief Executive Officer of Ferrovial Vertiports.

It is for this very reason that he is grateful for the opportunity to play a part in the design and development of vertiports, which are essentially “airports” or bases that do not have runways and will specifically allow for eVTOLs to safely take off, land, and for passengers to embark and disembark.

Ferrovial Vertiports is a new business area under the airport division of Ferrovial, S.A., which is a Madrid-headquartered and listed multinational corporation tasked with the design, construction, financing, operation, and maintenance of transport infrastructure and urban services. In addition to its airport arm, the company also operates highway, construction and services divisions.

The company has made marked headway since announcing plans to develop more than 10 vertiports in Florida through its partnership with Lilium in January 2021; it then unveiled a blueprint to build a network of more than 20 interconnected vertiports in Spain a month after, and revealed that infrastructure consulting company AECOM will be helping with its vertiport infrastructure development plans in Florida. In November 2021, it reported plans to deploy 25 vertiports in the United Kingdom.

“The company has spent the last four to five years studying and analyzing the AAM and urban air mobility market – our aim is to help build an ecosystem of agnostic vertiports across the US and Europe,” explains Cox. “We have built a very robust business model and partnered with some of the leaders in the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and AAM marketplace, as well as leading aviation designers, architects and engineering firms.”

Standout vertiports

To ensure the operational success and public acceptance of vertiports, Cox says companies will need to find ways to seamlessly integrate vertiports within communities in a way that offers convenience. “Our goal is to put vertiports where people ultimately want them to be on the first and last mile,” he says. This essentially rules out placing vertiports in inaccessible, remote, low-density areas and will involve identifying viable locations within cities to build them. “There would be no point in placing a vertiport out in some distant area and pray that people will use them; we have to take these vertiports and put them where people work and play.”

Amid the excitement, Cox is also cognizant of the regulatory hurdles that need to be cleared before the company’s vertiports are given the green light. Last month, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg appointed Cox to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Advanced Aviation Advisory Committee to assist and provide guidance as federal regulators roll out regulations and guidelines which will set the stage for this transformative form of transportation. “The fact of the matter is the AAM industry is one that is nascent – but it holds the opportunity to truly transform how we move to, through and between cities. So, it involves dealing with government regulators, OEMs and potential operators, as well as inter-city and intra-city business models,” he says, noting that the main challenge is building an agnostic vertiport – one that is able to serve each and every future eVTOL – all while meeting the needs and expectations of various parties. “And as an infrastructure company, we have to ensure that we achieve success,” he stresses.

However, Cox believes that Ferrovial’s more than seven decades of experience, team of hardworking and talented individuals, and proven track record of successful infrastructure projects should provide assurance and will facilitate a smooth launch of their planned vertiports. “Ferrovial has built, constructed and operated some of the most iconic transportation infrastructures worldwide. We’re the largest shareholder of London’s Heathrow Airport, and in June we became the lead sponsor of the consortium which is designing, building and will operate the new Terminal One at JFK International Airport in New York,” he illustrates.

Ferrovial’s team members, Cox adds, had already begun performing research to understand how people currently travel, and the potential gaps that the company’s vertiports may be able to fill. “Over four years ago, the team built a very sophisticated demand model that analyzes the movement of people and trends using big data. So we know between any two spots on a map how many people are traveling from point A to point B, how long it should be taking them, whether it’s taking them longer than anticipated, and what the choke points are along the way,” he elaborates. The team then performs predictive modeling based on various OEM pricing models to anticipate how many people they believe they can draw from other modes of transportation such as those traveling via car, train, bus, or commercial aircraft. “This allowed us to build a complex ‘heat map’ that identifies the opportunities in a particular community to connect all the nodes and ensure that we’ll be able to move the most people possible in the most efficient manner.”

This added expertise and foresight is what Cox believes will separate Ferrovial Vertiports from other companies that are also working to deploy vertiports. “It’s a combination of our company’s demonstrated experience, proven leadership team, and sophisticated demand modeling that truly separates us from the pack.”

“There would be no point in placing a vertiport out in some distant area and pray that people will use them; we have to take these vertiports and put them where people work and play.”

An affinity for the industry

Since taking on the role of Chief Executive Officer in October 2021, Cox has been focused on building on the company’s existing partnerships while also working with different government regulators, OEMs and operators to strengthen their system of future vertiports. “We’re in various discussions to see how we can provide a network of vertiports that can serve multiple operators across the US and Europe,” he says.

Being at the helm of aviation innovation also resonates with his zeal for the industry, which Cox says was the result of a chance encounter during his first job as a lawyer, where he was tasked with a project involving Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). “They were attempting to build two new runways, a new international terminal and a new people mover system. In a way, I got hooked on aviation purely accidentally by working on a variety of matters for them,” he laughs.

He spent the next 16 years working at DFW before bringing his expertise to American Airlines, aviation fuel company EPIC Fuels, followed by stints at international fixed-based operator Signature Flight Support and freight carrier Stevens Transport, before taking on his current role at Ferrovial. “This attraction to aviation – which people talk about it all the time – is something that gets into your blood. Once it does, it stays there,” he says.

Cox is humbled to be part of the Ferrovial family. “I feel blessed to be working for a company that has the kind of vision that Ferrovial does,” he says. “The company is made up of a diverse team that has been focused on transportation infrastructure and sustainability for over 20 years. To have the backing of a company of this size and experience really helps.”

Future-ready from the start

Though many eVTOL manufacturers are gearing up for commercial launch by 2024 or 2025, it will still be some time before people look up and see droves of eVTOLs ferrying passengers to and fro, says Cox. “We’re not going to see hundreds of thousands of eVTOLs in the sky just yet; aircraft still have to be certified and then approved for mass production. Then we’ll see them in certain regions in the world that allow for this form of transportation,” he points out, noting that public acceptance will gradually increase once people see or get to experience them in action. “Those communities that embrace this form of transportation will see the benefits first, and then others will undoubtedly follow when they witness this transformative and sustainable form of transportation.”

With safety likely to be a top-of-mind concern for most passengers, Cox says customers should rest assured knowing that each eVTOL vehicle will be carefully scrutinized during the certification process. “I can assure you that whether it’s the Federal Aviation Administration, European Union Aviation Safety Agency, Civil Aviation Authority or any other regulatory agency out there, none of them are going to cut any corners,” he says. “With that said, I believe that the public should take great comfort knowing that when that first flight takes off, it will be as safe as any other aircraft in the sky.”

Until eVTOLs officially launch, Cox and his team at Ferrovial will be working steadfastly with regulators, officials and communities to ensure that when eVTOLs start operations, that the industry sees a solid start and maintains momentum. “At the end of the day, we are looking to place our vertiports in cities, airports, and in different communities. So from a community acceptance perspective, it’s really incumbent upon companies like ourselves and others to work hand in glove with local officials,” explains Cox. “Vertiports are not something that we can just drop into a community. To achieve this, we have to engage with communities on the benefits of both vertiports and AAM, and how they will allow for a greener, quieter and quicker form of transportation.”

“So that when the first eVTOL is ready to take off,” Cox emphasizes, “we’ve got the vertiport in place and operationally ready to accommodate them.”

“Vertiports are not something that we can just drop into a community. To achieve this, we have to engage with communities on the benefits of both vertiports and AAM, and how they will allow for a greener, quieter and quicker form of transportation.”