LE BOURGET, France (AP) — Just a dot on the horizon at first, the electric-powered spacecraft, astonishingly quiet as a bug, buzzes through Paris and traffic before landing him in a gentle downward hover with the Eiffel Tower, the city’s signature zinc-grey roof. So, if all goes according to plan, a new page in the history of aviation could be written.
years later Dreamy, but not always believable, tales of soaring, pollution-free skies. Electric taxis, the aviation industry is now gearing up to deliver the future that is just around the corner.
The Paris region is planning small electric flying taxis to operate on multiple routes when hosting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. next summer. Unless China’s aviation regulator It beat Paris to the punch by approving a pilotless taxi for two passengers under development in Paris. Germany’s Volocopter, an up-and-coming operator in the French capital, could become the first company to commercially taxi if approved by European regulators.
Volocopter CEO Dirk Hoke, former chief executive of aerospace giant Airbus, has VVIPs in mind as his first Parisian passengers. None other than Emmanuel Macron, President of France.
“It’s going to be pretty amazing,” Hawke said at this week’s Paris Air Show, where he and other electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL) developers vied with industry heavyweights for attention.
“He believes in innovation in urban air mobility,” Hoke said of Macron. “That would be a strong signal for Europe to see its president blown away.”
But whether or not Macron is aboard, these pioneering first flights will be just a small step in a nascent industry that needs to take giant leaps forward before flying taxis drive their competitors off the ground.
Battery technology limitations Since they limit the range and number of paying passengers they can carry, eVTOL hops may not be short and cheap to begin with.
While the vision of simply expanding and surpassing city traffic is appealing, it also depends on advances in airspace management. The eVTOL manufacturer aims to deploy its fleet over the next decade on more niche routes and cities for luxury passengers, including French Liberia. But it takes a technological leap to keep flying taxis from colliding with each other, and everything else that is already crowding the skies or expected to pick up very large numbers of them, including millions of drones.
Archer Aviation Inc.’s Billy Nolen said they would start with existing helicopter routes first, “continue to expand using AI, and use machine learning to ensure the airspace can handle it.” Newark’s Liberty Airport in 2025. The Archer is a slick electric four-seater prototype that can be reached by train in under 10 minutes, or an hour in an old fashioned taxi.
Nolen was previously the head of the Federal Aviation Administration., a U.S. regulatory agency that was already working with NASA on technology to safely separate flying taxis during their tenure at the agency. Just as Paris uses the Olympic Games to test flying taxis, Nolen believes that the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics will be It gives the industry another target to aim for, demonstrating that it is possible to fly more and more passengers safely, cleanly and cheaply.
“By 2028 we will have hundreds, if not thousands, of eVTOLs,” he told The Associated Press at the Paris show.
The hopeful “tiny” experiment using the Volocopter for the Paris Olympics is a “great one”. We salute them,” he added. “But after 2028, we will see full deployment in major cities around the world.”
But even at a time the industry describes as a revolutionary new era beginning in the city that sparked the French Revolution in 1789, some aviation analysts are not accepting the vision that eVTOLs will easily become an affordable, ubiquitous, and convenient alternative. Welcome to the not too distant future.
And even among the eVTOL developers who were optimistic about the industry’s prospects at the Paris show, some predicted that their competitors would run out of money before they even had a prototype on the market.
Morgan Stanley analysts estimate the industry will be worth $1 trillion by 2040 and $9 trillion by 2050, due to advances in battery and propulsion technology. Analysts say almost everything will come after 2035. This is because it is difficult to obtain new aircraft certification from US and European regulators.
Richard Aboulafia of AeroDynamic Advisory, an aerospace consulting firm, said, “The idea of mass urban traffic remains a glamorous fantasy of the 1950s.”
“The real problem is still that ordinary people like you and me do not have routine or exclusive access to $4 million vehicles. You and I can take an air taxi now. It’s called a helicopter.”
Nonetheless, the electric taxis that the Olympians fly through the skies of Paris are going to be faster, higher and stronger, so they can have surprising power. Volocopter hopes so.
One of five planned Olympic routes will land in the heart of the city on a refurbished floating platform above the Seine.. Developers point out that ridesharing apps and e-scooters have also given the impression that many customers are out of the ordinary. And, as with any such technology, some are betting that early adopters of flying taxis will entice others to try them too.
“It will be a whole new experience for people,” said Hoke, CEO of Volocopter. “But after 20 years, someone looks back at what has changed based on that and calls it a revolution. And I think we are on the edge of the next revolution.”
AP Aviation writer David Koenig contributed from Dallas.
More AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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