Paris is positioning itself to be an early adopter of urban air mobility (UAM) services by inviting companies to propose plans for providing eVTOL aircraft, infrastructure, operational support, airspace integration, and support in securing public acceptance. From October 1 through November 13, companies and organizations will be able to submit expressions of interest via a special website established by the Choose Paris Region agency with airports group ADP and ground transportation network RATP.
As a first step, a UAM “test area” will be established at Pontoise airfield, 22 miles northwest of the city center to evaluate arrangements for starting air taxi services. It is hoped that services will launch in time for the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games.
During the first half of 2021, the airside zone at Pontoise will be modified to include facilities such as aircraft boarding area, electrical recharging stations, and ground markings. In cooperation with French civil aviation authority DGAC, tests will be conducted for parking, takeoff, and landing operations, as well as for aircraft maintenance and recharging.
Officials have indicated that tests “in a real aeronautical environment” will be conducted in June 2021. That same month, the Paris Air Show is due to be held at Le Bourget Airport, which is 40 miles southeast of Pontoise.
The international call for expressions of interest will cover five key components for establishing a UAM network. These are as follows: vehicle development (for manufacturers and equipment suppliers); urban infrastructure (for energy companies and vertiport designers); operations (suppliers of “intermodal solutions,” maintenance and digital platforms); airspace integration (suppliers of unmanned traffic management and communication/navigation systems); “acceptability” (laboratories and research institutes dealing with social and environmental issues).
In a September 30 announcement, eVTOL aircraft developer Volocopter said it is the first partner to start working with Paris officials. The German company said it will be ready to start operations with its two-seat VoloCity aircraft “in two or three years” from now. It has previously conducted public flight demonstrations with the aircraft in Singapore, Helsinki, Stuttgart, and Dubai.
RATP, which runs train, subway, tram, and bus services in Paris, has previously conducted exploratory work on urban air mobility with Airbus. The European aerospace group has been evaluating two eVTOL technology demonstrators called Vahana and CityAirbus as it seeks to solidify its plans to enter the UAM sector.
Valerie Pecresse, president of the Paris region, said that the plan to develop air mobility capability is part of her agency’s Covid recovery plan and also supports France’s international commitments to reduce carbon emissions following the recent COP 2020 conference. “This event [the opening of the test area at Pontoise] represents an invaluable opportunity to involve the entire aviation industry and demonstrate the unique qualities of the Paris region as an area of reference within the global urban air mobility market,” she commented.
“The structuring of an urban air mobility industry around vertical takeoff and landing aircraft is vital for the attractiveness of the Paris region,” said Choose Paris Region president Franck Margain. “The growth of this industry will contribute to the development of environmentally friendly industrial solutions and offer the Paris region a unique mix of multimodal transportation systems.”
In May 2018, Uber announced plans to establish an Advanced Technologies Center in Paris to support its own plans to develop UAM services. The ride-hailing group said it would invest around $23 million in the facility, which was intended to work on issues such as airspace management, autonomy, communications, energy storage, and charging systems.
At the time, Uber also said that it planned to engage with European city officials to discuss infrastructure needs for urban air mobility. The U.S.-based group also indicated that during 2020 it would announce an international location for launching Uber Air services, in addition to Dallas and Los Angeles. The company subsequently said that Melbourne in Australia would be the location for its first service network outside the U.S.