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Flying ‘drone taxis’ on track to carry passengers at Paris Olympics

The company behind the aircraft say it can still get certification in time for Paris 2024

A two-seater craft at the new dedicated ‘vertiport’ at Pontoise-Cormeilles, near Paris Pic: Nikolay Kazakov / Volocopter

The flying taxi service promised for the Paris Olympics is “on track”, the company behind the project insists, although it admits the summer 2024 deadline is a challenge.

The initiative moved a step closer with the opening of a dedicated ‘vertiport’ at Pontoise-Cormeilles airfield, to the north of the capital, in November.

Potential for employment and the environment

Invited visitors included Valérie Pécresse, president of Ile-de-France region, which helped pay for the vertiport.

They watched as a two-seater aircraft, looking like a large drone with 16 motors and sets of propellers around a cabin, took to the air for a short flight.

Ms Pécresse said the regional council supported the project financially because it saw the development of low-altitude aviation in an urban setting as “an adventure full of promises for employment, for the environment, and for the lives of Paris region residents”.

She added: “Just as the first plane ticket of the first airline company was bought in 1914 in Florida, I want the first passenger flight in an electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft to be in our region.” 

Read more: Record-breaking electric ‘pod’ railway set for trial at Paris Olympics

‘Confident there will be no delay’

Although being ready for the Paris Olympics is clearly the aim, the aircraft manufacturer behind the project, Volocopter, told The Connexion that it could not guarantee it would fly during the Games.

“Our certification process is on track for this ambitious target,” a spokeswoman said.

“The mid-summer 2024 goal is a challenge, but we have aligned a timeline with EASA [the regulatory authority for aircraft in Europe] mapping out all the milestones and approvals that are necessary to achieve type certification in summer 2024. 

“Of course, it is up to us, not EASA, to finish the job and reach these milestones. 

“However, if we can meet them, then EASA is fairly confident there will be no delay to the timeline.”

Quarter as loud as a helicopter

At the moment Volocopter’s two-seater model is the only certified flying aircraft in its category, though currently limited to test flights.

The certification means that it has to fly with a pilot on board, even though it has been designed to fly automatically, with the flight monitored remotely.

Work is under way on getting certification for the heavier five-seat model, called a Volo-City.

Much of the testing has involved looking at how much noise the all-electric aircraft makes, which is a key factor in any final decision as to whether it will be used in towns.

Early results are that the smaller two-seater could be rated at 76 decibels, about the same as a modern quiet vacuum cleaner, and a quarter as loud as most helicopters.

This is achieved by having 16 propellers and motors, with each propeller tip turning more slowly than a helicopter rotor tip, thereby making less noise.

Read more: Drones can replace scaffolding to clean roof and walls of French homes

Other manufacturers pulled out

The rapid progress of the Volocopter programme has kept the dream of an Olympics ‘flying taxi’ alive. 

Other manufacturers, including Airbus, pulled out after building prototypes that they realised could not be developed in time.

At least five other companies are expected to use the first vertiport for tests.

As well as the one at Pontoise-Cormeilles, other vertiports are being built in anticipation at Bourget and Charles de Gaulle airports, at the Austerlitz railway station, at an existing helicopter landing site at Issy-les-Moulineaux, and at the Saint-Cyr-l’Ecole airfield near Versailles.

Journey prices could be same as road taxis

The Volo-City model is expected to have a commercial flight range of around 30km, including a safety margin, and for its batteries to be changed or charged quickly enough for each to be flown two or three times an hour.

Tariffs were initially planned to be in line with using a chauffeur service to get from the airports to Paris centre, usually between €80 and €100, but the German company said it could not confirm this at present.

Both RATP, which runs public transport in Ile-de-France, and ADP, which runs Paris’s airports, are also involved in the vertiport projects.

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