Did France just pull a coup d’état on the air taxi race?
American electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft manufacturers Joby and Archer Aviation have long planned commercial launches by 2025. But at the Paris Air Show on Tuesday, German rival Volocopter reinforced its agreement with Groupe ADP, an international airport operator based in Paris, and the French Civil Aviation Authority and Paris Region (DGAC) to establish an air taxi network in Paris by next summer.
Volocopter and its new partners are hoping to turn the “City of Lights” into the City of eVTOL Flights in time for the 2024 Olympic Games, a timeline that would likely make Paris the first city in the world to fly routine, dedicated urban air taxi routes.
The plan is to begin with three public transit routes—linking airports, heliports, and vertiports—as well as two round-trip tourism routes. Trips will be flown by Volocopter’s VoloCity eVTOL, which has capacity for a pilot and one passenger. It will fly below 1,640 feet (500 meters) but will not be audible from the ground within the Paris soundscape.
“We are counting down the days to making electric air taxis a reality,” said Dirk Hoke, CEO of Volocopter. “Together with our French partners, we will take command in decarbonizing aviation, slowly but surely.”
All of Volocopter’s early operations in Paris will be based out of five vertiports, the construction of which will begin no later than September. Those five facilities, including a special vertiport on the Austerlitz barge on the Seine River, will produce five urban air mobility (UAM) routes to support a mix of public transportation and tourism:
- Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (LFPG) to Paris-Le Bourget Airport (LFPB)
- Vertiport of Austerlitz barge (under construction) to Paris Heliport (JDP)
- Paris Heliport to Airfield of Saint-Cyr-l’École (LFPZ)
- Paris Heliport round-trip flights
- Paris-Le Bourget round-trip flights
In addition to the Austerlitz barge vertiport, which is being supported by Paris Region authorities, Volocopter will construct air taxi infrastructure at the two major Paris airports, the Paris Heliport, and the airfield in Saint-Cyr-l’École. Each vertiport will feature passenger terminals with one to three takeoff and landing spots. Over the next decade, the company said it will look to add vertiport coverage for the entire Paris Region.
But Volocopter will still need to certify VoloCity with the European Union Aviation and Safety Agency (EASA)—a process it says will be complete by early 2024—before launching commercial operations. For the past 18 months, Volocopter has completed dozens of flights at its testing ground in Pontoise, France, in front of thousands of spectators.
Aiding the company further is the recent completion of its Bruchsal, Germany, production facility, which it says has received regulatory approval to build 50 VoloCity aircraft per year.
“All the indicators are green for a successful summer 2024,” said Edward Arkwright, deputy CEO of Groupe ADP. “The challenges ahead are huge, but they are a great source of pride for all those involved in the project, with whom we share the conviction that carbon-free air travel also brings new services.”
Following a successful demonstration at the Paris Air Show, Volocopter also announced that charitable air rescue service ADAC Luftrettung agreed to buy two custom-built VoloCity aircraft, with the intention of procuring 150 more as part of an ongoing collaboration. The aircraft will begin flying research operations in 2024, with an eye toward future zero-emissions EMS and rescue missions.
“With higher ranges and operational speeds as well as significantly more payload of the next generation of eVTOLs, we can also put the benefits for emergency care into practice—and fulfill our statutory mission to further develop the rescue service from the air with pioneering innovations,” said Frédéric Bruder, CEO of ADAC Luftrettung.
In addition to services in France and Germany, Volocopter is looking to fly air taxi routes in Singapore and Rome by 2024, as well as in the planned city of Neom, Saudi Arabia, as soon as construction allows. The firm is also developing a longer-range eVTOL, VoloRegion, which aims to connect cities and suburbs with UAM routes. That model first flew in June 2022.
Interestingly, Volocopter has not announced any plans to launch commercial services in the U.S. That’s where Archer (Chicago and New Jersey), Joby (Los Angeles and New York), and Eve Air Mobility (San Francisco) are planning their hubs. But if Volocopter remains on schedule, none of them will stake a claim to the first commercial eVTOL service.