It is two years, just two years, until the Olympic sporting pomp, ceremony and competition begin in Paris. History features 29 Summer Olympic Games held in 23 cities and 24 Winter Games hosted in 21 cities. Beijing will pass the torch on to the French capital, where the Olympics start on July 26th and ends August 11th, 2024.
At this major 3 0, there will be 40 competition sites, 32 different sports encompassing 329 events, close to 10 million spectators attending and, staggeringly, over 4 billion TV viewers or half the world’s population are expected to tune in and watch.
Yet, 2024 is to be different. The event – we are told – will embrace a technology never seen before at any previous Games. A technology that some believe will revolutionise and radically change the way we fly in the future. This is the moment when eVTOLs or Flying Taxis will show over 4 billion people around the globe what they’re made of. There has rarely been such a pivotal time for any new industry. Get it wrong and this nascent market could peter out like a damp squib. Get it right and Flying Taxis might soar to the dizzy heights of success only dreamers can imagine.
It was back in late November, 2021 when Groupe ADP (Aeroports de Paris) confirmed that eVTOLs would play an important part in the 2024 Olympics. Two routes are planned to help spectators and athletes quickly fly around the city. One is to connect Charles de Gaulle and Le Bourget airports (the latter area will host the Olympic media village) with the main Olympic village. The other link is between the Paris-Issy-les-Moulineaux heliport and the Saint-Cyr airfield. For infrastructure, there will be at least three constructed vertiports around the metropolitan area.
How The Pontoise Vertiport May Look (Computer Graphic)
To reach this ambitious point, as part of the Re.Invent Air Mobility Initiative, Choose Paris Region, Groupe ADP and RATP Group has jointly launched the first eVTOL trials located at the Cergy-Pontoise, Cormeilles-en-Vexin airfield, 35 km northwest of Paris. The overall area is the size of 45 football fields and includes two paved runways, one control tower, and various maintenance hangars.
A total of 30 manufacturers have been chosen to participate in the testing including Volocopter, Skyports, Thales, Pipistrel, Airbus UAM, Lilium, Vertical Aerospace, EHang, Ascendance Technologies, Joby Aviation and Zipline.
As part of the infrastructure Skyports is constructing a vertiport at the airfield starting this month. It is to be built using modular technology so that it can easily be relocated to a new location at the end of the program, serving as the first commercial vertiport in France.
This facility will enable the testing of boarding and disembarking operations, recharging batteries and vehicle maintenance and is equipped with technologies including biometric identity management, situational awareness capabilities and weather stations. The data collected during this trial phase will be essential for the development of AAM regulatory frameworks.
In November, Augustin de Romanet, Aéroports de Paris SA – Groupe ADP’s chairman and CEO, commented, “Our Pontoise airfield brings together an ecosystem around new air mobility and the trial platform we are launching is unprecedented in Europe. We will test all the components of Urban Air Mobility.”
After early smaller tests involving Skyports, Thales and Pipistrel, in March the proposed plans had moved up a gear when news broke that Volocopter had conducted noise emission tests. At the airfield, the German-based eVTOL conducted two public flights attended by local officials and stakeholders with its 2X technology demonstrator aircraft.
They were a success and proved noise levels were far less than a helicopter. e.g compared with a similar sized Robinson R22, the eVTOL was 10 dB quieter while climbing and 15 dB quieter while hovering at 246’. In fact, at that altitude, the 2X had the same noise profile as the R22 at 1,640’.
Volocopter has been chosen as a major partner in the Paris Region’s Urban Air Mobility project. (pic: Volocopter)
This prompted Christian Bauer, Volocopter’s Chief Commercial Officer, to comment, “By flying our aircraft in a crewed configuration at a Paris airport, we are proving to one of our launch cities, firsthand, that our craft will offer a practical addition for potential airport to city routes.”
Meanwhile, futureflight.aero wrote in March that RATP is working closely with the eVTOL company. Joran Le Nabat, an engineer working on acoustic and vibratory studies for the company, explained his team is preparing noise maps around specific possible routes across the city leading to potential sites for vertiports.
One of these is the Gare d’Austerlitz railway station on the east side of the city, where RATP is exploring the potential of flying taxi flights to shuttle passengers to other transport hubs from there.
But wait. Now it is time for a reality check. Is there not a problem. A big problem? It’s easy to get carried away and imagine hundreds of athletes, on a daily basis, being flown back and forth from the Olympic Village by air taxis. It is even easier to dream of spectators and VIPs whisked around Paris either from an airport or vertiport to different sporting events during a two-week period, but how realistic is all of this?
Given the Olympic Games is just two years away, how many eVTOL companies will have even gained full certification by then to commercially fly? Perhaps, just two, Joby and EHang. And what of the air regulations when the Parisian skies could experience one of its busiest periods in many years?
The notion that an air taxi lands outside the luxury Four Season George V Hotel, located just off the Champs-Elysees and flies film star, Tom Cruise, to the 100 metre final is pure fantasy, surely?
For example, Le Nabat told reporters the challenge is not a case of achieving a specific “magic number” of decibels, but primarily about public acceptance. For air taxis involve “a complex matrix of considerations” that include operational safety and economic impact. So, come July 26th, 2024, what is actually feasible. What will be the reality?
What do you think? is it realistic that air taxis will be flying people to and from sporting events during the Games in 2024? What are the regulatory challenges to overcome? We would love to hear your views on the subject to be included in a follow-up feature.
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