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ENVIRONMENT

Paris to trial ‘flying taxis’ ahead of Olympics

'Flying taxis' will start taking off from an aerodrome north of Paris from June, operators said, in a trial ahead of a vast tourist influx for the 2024 Olympics.

Paris to trial 'flying taxis' ahead of Olympics
The taxis are known as vertical take-off and landing vehicles (VOTL). Photo: AFP

The experiment will take place at the Pontoise-Cormeilles-en-Vexin aerodrome some 90 minutes northwest of the capital, according to a joint announcement by the Île-de-France region, airports operator Groupe ADP and the RATP public transport agency.

A drone-like, fully-electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL) dubbed VoloCity, produced by German company Volocopter, was chosen for the innovative trial with flying taxis in a peri-urban area, they said.

The partners said in a statement they had “decided to bring together all the conditions to make the emergence of this new mode of transport possible to complement the existing modes, whether for the public or for goods.

“Furthermore, the prospect of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games provides an exceptional opportunity to involve an entire industry in order to make the Paris region a leader in the global market of urban air mobility.”

The experiment will depend on the approval of residents, security protocols and air traffic regulations, said the companies.

In the first half of 2021, arrangements will be made for parking areas, recharging stations and ground markings for the demonstration.

Working with aviation safety agencies, the partners said “parking, takeoff and landing operations as well as operations around the vehicle, whether maintenance or electrical recharging, will be tested in a real aeronautical environment in June 2021.”

VoloCity is equipped with 18 rotors and nine battery packs. Each can carry two passengers with hand luggage, for a maximum payload of 200kg.

It flies at 110km per hour, at an altitude of 400 to 500 metres, with a range of 35km.

Volocopter executive Fabien Nestmann said the craft's makers hoped for full certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency within two to three years.

“We want a demo for the 2024 Olympic Games,” Valérie Pécresse, president of the Île-de-France region, added at the launch news conference.

But it could take a decade for the project to be rolled out at scale.

“The day that you can buy a ticket (for a flying taxi) on the internet and take one, is more towards 2030,” RATP CEO Catherine Guillouard told journalists.

In the long term, “we will be able to integrate mini take-off and landing zones into the urban fabric, which will require (public) acceptance, and the issue of noise will be key,” she added.

In the quest to limit traffic pollution and ease congestion, the idea of flying taxis has taken root worldwide.

Volocopter has already tested its airborne taxi in different parts of the world, and last October chose Singapore for the first test in the heart of a city.

Several other companies are working on similar projects, including Boeing, Airbus, Toyota and Hyundai.

Earlier this month, Japanese firm SkyDrive showed its eight-propeller, manned compact vehicle flying around a test field.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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