The trials at Cergy-Pontoise Airport, leading up to the Paris Olympic Games in July, 2024 are imperative for the future success of the eVTOL industry. Over 4 billion people worldwide could watch on TV, air taxis flying over the French capital during the Games, not forgetting the 10 million spectators attending. The correct preparation is essential.

Damian Kysely, Skyports Head of Europe and the Middle East, offers the latest news on how things are shaping up and whether it is realistic and feasible for air taxis to be flying athletes and spectators to sporting events in two years time, given the many challenges that lie ahead. Skyports is a leading company constructing the vertiport infrastructure for the Olympics.

Chris Stonor Asks The Questions

When are you beginning construction of the vertiport at Cergy-Pontoise Airfield?

Construction begins in mid-to-late July. Planning permission has been granted. Some of the groundwork is already done. Completion of this project should be late September.

Why was Skyports chosen? Is it through your connection with Volocopter?

We have been working very closely with Groupe ADP (AéRoport De Paris) for a number of years as well as Volocopter in Singapore. The idea for a trial vertiport was considered around 18 months ago as part of the ADP’s Air Mobility Ecosystem surrounding the Paris region. We submitted a proposal and were selected to build the terminal.

Is this Skyports second construction after Singapore in 2019?

Yes, although we are currently designing or about to construct three others around the world. These include one in the Greater London area, to be opened next year. The location will be announced shortly.

In the near future how many of your constructed vertiports will be either portable or permanent standing?

There is to be a variety. We are constructing a second one in Singapore, a continuation of our collaboration with Volocopter, which will be our first permanent structure.

Back to Cergy-Pontoise, how big is the vertiport?

The terminal building itself will be around 1,200 square feet. Then there is a taxiway, stands etc.. as part of the airside area.

Who is paying for this construction?

Groupe ADP own the land. Skyports will pay for the construction of the terminal. ADP are responsible for the airside infrastructure.

Which eVTOL companies are testing here?

Presently, Volocopter is the most active. Others include EHang, Joby, Vertical Aerospace, Ascendance Flight, Lilium and Airbus, as well as a number of cargo drone companies.

Cergy-Pontoise Vertiport (computer graphic): [Pic: LeParisien]

What specific areas are you trialling?

In the terminal, we will be testing the passenger experience like boarding and disembarking, alongside technologies including biometric identity management and a system that Skyports is creating concerning situational awareness, e.g what is happening in and around the vertiport.

Other trials will include the turn-a-round of the eVTOL; recharging of batteries, aircraft maintenance and ground to air communications; noise and weather data. And later on operations surrounding more than one craft operating at the vertiport at the same time. This is the end goal.

The uniqueness of this project is the number of eVTOL and cargo drone companies involved with different aircraft configurations. We are really looking forward to these tests. The data collected will be essential for the development of future AAM regulatory frameworks.

How long will these trials last?

They are to continue until the opening of the Paris Olympics in July, 2024. The aim for every company involved is to use the testbed for the Games’ preparation. Afterwards, the intent is to commercialise urban air mobility around the Paris region. ADP has said the Cergy-Pontoise vertiport will remain open for as long as it is needed.

Another option is to move the terminal, as it is transportable, and locate it elsewhere, perhaps in Paris during the Olympics, for commercial use. We’re not sure yet how this may work out.

ADP have said there’ll be at least three different vertiports located in the Paris region during the Games. You represent one, which companies are behind the others?

I believe a majority will be located at either existing ADP-owned airfields or heliports around Paris. We may still be involved in constructing some, we are in the middle of discussions, but as ADP own, control and operate the proposed sites, a number will definitely exist during the Games. There are one or two Greenfield locations in the centre of Paris, based in a non-aviation environment, which are presently being looked at.

Do you know where the confirmed locations are in Paris?

I have been told, but am not allowed to divulge this news, yet. Some will be located in central Paris and others close to the Olympic Village.

This leads on to the crux of the series is writing. What is the feasibility of air taxis flying athletes and spectators over Paris during the Olympics? What might be the actual reality? What is your personal view?

First, it is a very ambitious goal and highlights the aspirations of the industry. The Olympics offer a focus, a future objective to aim for.

I am 100 percent confident there’ll be a rich number of eVTOL demonstrations over the Paris skies during the Games, but whether there’ll be passengers on-board is another matter. The objective is to provide commercial services. It all depends on how many eVTOLs have gained full certification by then. It is highly attractive for those companies who have, as this offers a first-to-market potential. What I’ve seen and heard in discussions, everything will be done to make commercial flights happen. We have two years left. A lot can happen in that time.

Joby Aviation the primary eVTOL Flying Athletes and Spectators Around the Paris Olympics? (Pic: Joby)

Surely, only Joby and EHang may have secured full certification by the Olympics. If so, could these two be flying commercially?

I agree with you about Joby as it is the front-runner. I question EHang though. I am not sure whether the company would be allowed to fly in the U.S or Europe under its present Chinese certification. In Europe, Volocopter is the leader and are best placed to achieve EASA full certification in time for the Games.

The number one challenge is public safety. The idea that an air taxi crashes during a demonstration over Paris when billions of people are watching on TV is unthinkable. Even worse, God forbid, if it is carrying passengers.

We all know public safety is the number one issue and why the trials at Cergy-Pontoise are so important. So long as everything is fully tested, verified and proven, I don’t see why eVTOLs will be unsafe. Everyone involved in this project is striving to make the industry as safe as can be.

These craft are not toys. The technology is based on many years of aviation heritage and experience alongside the same high standard of regulation found in today’s aviation industry.

Given the Paris Olympics are just two years away, what are the most important aspects to be resolved between now and then?

The trials at Cergy-Pontoise is first and foremost about building confidence. There are not just one or two aspects to focus on, but the whole end to end ecosystem. The preparations leading up to the Olympics whether they are to do with technology, ground to air communication, or regulation, will be comprehensive and rigorous; to make the demonstrations and potential commercial flights at the Paris Olympics as safe as possible.