Commuters in France may soon heave a sigh of relief from the perpetually crowded roads as the country opens a hub for electric air taxi testing. The service which is categorized under aircraft is an emerging innovation that many believe can be a close alternative to cabs. Volocopter hopes to complete the testing in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
The electric helicopter from the German company Volocopter resembles a giant drone with eight rotors. It was first tested on Thursday, November 10, 2022, in conventional air traffic close to Paris in preparation for commercial flights in 2024. The Volocopter test aircraft took off from the Pontoise Cormeilles airfield with one passenger on board and briefly hovered around.
The CEO of Volocopter Dirk Hoke said they are preparing the aircraft for certification in the next eighteen months. He believes the company would be able to launch short commercial flights from 2024 during the Summer Olympic Games.
The test aircraft has provisions for a passenger and the pilot with the control system projecting from the dashboard. However, the company is aiming towards having the controls fully automated in the future. To get there, they still need to put in work on airspace integration, infrastructure, and public acceptance.
In terms of flying experience, the Volocopter is easier to handle than the traditional helicopter because it makes use of a digital fly-by-wire system and rotors. This difference was highlighted by the test pilot Paul Stone after he completed the test flight.
“Moving one control in a helicopter leads to three outcomes comparable to rubbing your tummy and patting your head—the exercise involves coordination,” Stone said. “In this aircraft [the Volocopter], they eliminated all those challenges with easier controls in each axis. That makes it easier to fly.”
Volocopter still need funding and supporting facilities to become a reality
President of the Ile-de-France region, Valérie Pécresse, said the region has supported the initiative financially as she wants the first commercial take-off and landing to happen there. “The advance of low-altitude aircraft for urban transport is a thrilling adventure with endless possibilities,” Pécresse said in a statement.
The Pontoise Cormeilles aerodrome, the facility where Volocopter carried out its test flight, was unveiled on Thursday. The facility merges a mission control zone, take-off and landing area, hangar, and passenger terminal. It will be operated by Aeroports de Paris which controls the major airports in the French capital, together with Skyports Ltd., which is a leading developer of vertiports (the moniker for flying-taxi bases).
Volocopter is in a frantic push to make the technology available for the Olympics and Hoke believes they can make it. “All our team wake up every morning and work towards this goal. It is the most challenging blueprint you can think of.”
However, the most vital milestone will be to secure regulatory approval in the second quarter of 2024, just before the commencement of the Olympics.
France is planning two flying taxi routes for the Summer Olympic games. One will be from Le Bourget airport and Charles de Gaulle airport to central Paris, which will have a vertiport on the Seine River. The other route will run from Saint-Cyr aerodrome close to Versailles and end in the city.
Volocopter is not the only company working on commercial air taxis. Several cities around the world are testing a similar innovation. However, the race with Airbus (AIR.PA), Joby Aviation (JOBY.N), and Lilium is to determine who will become the first certified flying taxi.
Volocopter will become affordable over time
The Volocpter is fully electric and quieter than a helicopter. The company promoted it as an ecological alternative to fuel-powered vehicles. At the moment, the price for a short ride is around $100—which may be beyond what ordinary people can afford. However, Hoke believes that will eventually change.
“Once we have started mass production it will be available for everyone. Also, the fares will go down over time and we will definitely see it all over the world,” Hoke said.
While it is unlikely that air taxis will replace regular cabs anytime soon, those who can afford them will fancy the chance to skip the heavy traffic on Paris roads.
Stone said, “the idea is to make it open to the whole community. Anyone that wants to take an Uber today, there is no reason why they shouldn’t contemplate taking a VoloCity across the urban landscape or across the city, affirmatively a lot quicker.”
Volocopter plans to offer 30 minutes commercial air taxi for the games. Apart from the Olympics, Volocopter is planning to start services in Rome before the end of 2024 and eventually expand to Los Angeles, Miami, and Singapore in the coming years. Volocopter has also entered a joint venture with Geely Holding to introduce urban air mobility in China.