Up, up and away – flying taxis look to change the skies over France’s Revolution city

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Le Bourget, France — At first just a dot on the horizon, the bug-like and surprisingly quiet electric ship hums above Paris and its traffic jams, before dropping off its undoubtedly astonished passenger past the Eiffel Tower and the city’s signature zinc-grey rooftops Experience the privileged views of. Slowly turn it down. And thus, if all goes according to plan, could a new page be written in aviation history.

After years of dreamy and not always credible talk of skies filled with flying, non-polluting electric taxis, the aviation industry is preparing to deliver a future it says is just around the corner .

Capitalizing on its moment in the global spotlight, the Paris region plans to operate a small fleet of electric flying taxis on several routes next summer when it hosts the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Unless aviation regulators in China beat Paris to the green by green-lighting a pilotless taxi under development for two passengers, the French capital’s potential operator – Germany’s Volocopter – could be the first to fly taxis commercially If European regulators give their approval.

Volocopter CEO Dirk Hock, a former top executive at aerospace giant Airbus, has a VVIP in mind as his first passenger to Paris – none other than French President Emmanuel Macron.

“It’s going to be pretty amazing,” Hoque said this week, speaking at the Paris Air Show, where he and other developers of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft — or EVTOL for short — competed with industry giants for attention. Did.

Hawke said of Macron, “He believes in the innovation of urban air mobility. To see the president fly will be a strong signal to Europe.”

But with or without Macron on board, those pioneering first flights will still be small steps for a budding industry that needs to make giant leaps before flying taxis can beat out competitors on the ground.

The limited power of battery technology limits the range and number of paying passengers they can carry, so eVTOL hops are likely to be fewer and cheaper initially.

And while the vision of beating city traffic by simply zooming is tempting, it also hinges on advances in airspace management. Manufacturers of eVTOL would like to open up fleets in cities and on more exclusive routes for luxury travelers, including the French Riviera. But they’ve made technological leaps so that flying taxis don’t collide with each other and everything else already populating the skies or expected to arrive in vast numbers over the coming decade — including millions of drones. .

“Starting first on existing helicopter routes, we will continue to use AI, using machine-learning to ensure our airspace can handle it,” said Billy Nolen of Archer Aviation Inc. Its purpose is to start flights between downtown Manhattan and. Newark’s Liberty Airport in 2025. It’s normally a 1-hour train or old-fashioned taxi ride that Archer says its sleek, electric 4-passenger prototype can cover in less than 10 minutes.

Nolen was formerly the acting head of US regulator the Federal Aviation Administration, having already been working with NASA on technology to safely separate flying taxis during his tenure at the agency. Just as Paris is using its Olympic Games to test flying taxis, Nolen said the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics presents another target for the industry and shows it can deliver safe, clean, and efficient transportation to increasing numbers of passengers. And can fly in an economical way.

“By the time you get to 2028, we’ll have hundreds, if not thousands, of EVTOLs,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press at the Paris show.

The “very small” experiment expected with the Volocopter for the Paris Games is “a wonderful thing.” We salute them,” he added, “but by the time we get to 2028 and beyond… you will see full-scale deployments in major cities around the world.”

Nevertheless, few aviation analysts readily accept EVTOL’s dream of becoming an affordable, ubiquitous and convenient alternative to the ride, despite the industry being hailed as the start of a revolutionary new era in the city that gave birth to the French Revolution of 1789. Not doing – welcome to the near future.

And even among eVTOL developers who spoke bullishly about their industry prospects at the Paris show, some predicted that rivals would run out of funding before they could even bring a prototype to market.

Morgan Stanley analysts estimate that the industry could be worth $1 trillion by 2040 and $9 trillion by 2050, with advances in battery and propulsion technology. Analysts say nearly all of these will come after 2035, as new aircraft will have difficulty getting certified by US and European regulators.

“The idea of ​​mass urban transit remains an attractive 1950s fantasy,” said Richard Abulafia of aerospace consultancy Aerodynamic Advisory.

“The real problem is still that ordinary people like you and me don’t get regular or exclusive access to $4 million vehicles. You and I can take an air taxi right now. It’s called a helicopter.”

Still, the electric taxis taking to the skies of Paris as Olympians may have the power to surprise by going faster, higher and stronger – pleasantly so, Volocopter hopes.

One of five planned Olympic routes will land on a floating platform on the Seine River in the heart of the city. The developers point out that ride-hailing apps and e-scooters also seemed strange to many customers. And like those technologies, some are betting that early adopters of flying taxis will inspire others to try them, too.

“It’s going to be a whole new experience for people,” said Hok, CEO of Volocopter. “But twenty years later someone looks back and sees what has changed on the basis of that and then they call it a revolution. And I think we’re on the cusp of the next revolution.”


AP airline writer David Koenig contributed from Dallas.


More AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: more

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