(Le Bourget) Long-awaited, the first electric flying taxis are beginning to leave research centers to arrive on tarmacs, like that of Volocopter, which should officially enter service for the Paris Olympics, the year next.
Above the runways of Le Bourget airport, in the Paris region, the “Volocity” of the German aircraft manufacturer lands gently, after a demonstration of about fifteen minutes for the 54th edition of the International Air Show and space.
The two-seater aircraft – a pilot and a passenger – powered by electric batteries, makes almost no noise, contrasting with the fighter planes that follow one another in the sky. on board, Paul Stone, a 56-year-old Briton, is at the controls: relatively “simple” driving, according to the former Royal Navy, who previously flew fighter planes and then helicopters.
With this eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft), “helicopter pilots are going to have to unlearn sharp skills,” he says.
Because in the white aircraft, which is reminiscent of a helicopter, “there is an important difference: a digital flight control system”, making navigation much easier. “It’s very exciting to test this: it allows you to apply your skills, from existing aircraft, for this new world”, underlines Paul Stone.
Volocopter is preparing for the Olympic Games in Paris, and for this purpose has been testing its machines in the Paris region for more than a year and a half with the airport manager Groupe Aéroports de Paris (ADP), the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens ( RATP) and the Ile-de-France region.
A result that comes after some 600 million US dollars of investment. “It’s not an easy market”, recognizes the commercial and financial director of Volocopter, Christian Bauer, who evokes a high entry ticket when the market does not yet exist. “It is a challenge, but we are very close to the commercial phase. »
On the horizon, the company will sell its devices but also manage journeys, with an application that will make it possible to book online, like for a taxi. It has already received 300 pre-orders from private companies to jointly operate its flying taxis.
Will an eVTOL be taken as easily as a VTC in the future? In any case, the Paris Air Show devotes an entire space to them for the first time, where ultra-design devices are concentrated.
Because investments are flowing. According to a recent study by research firm Deloitte, eVTOLs attracted €6 billion (C$8.7 billion) of investment globally in 2021, €2.7 billion in 2022 ( 3.9 billion Canadian dollars).
“Four years ago, this was still a very exploratory sector. The market has consolidated a little, we now have real prototypes, it is becoming a reality”, analyzes Jean-Louis Rassineux, aeronautics and defense manager for Deloitte.
The enthusiasm is there, and the orders follow. The eVTOL Atea from the French start-up Ascendance Flight Technologies announced 110 new purchasing intentions on Monday, or 505 in all. For its part, the American company Archer has already received pre-orders for 100 eVTOL by United Airlines, for more than a billion dollars.
The Midnight, its ultra-design eVTOL, can carry four passengers in addition to its pilot. “We can bring from the airport to the center of the metropolises for a cost similar to that of a VTC, and replace a 90-minute journey by car with a five-minute journey,” the founder and boss of the company told AFP. ‘Archer, Adam Goldstein.
The fact of using electric allows a maintenance cost much lower than with helicopters, he believes, rejecting the idea of planes reserved for the rich, a criticism often addressed to these new generation planes .
“You can share the cost over a much larger user base, flying the planes a lot more,” he says.
Attracted by this new potential market, established aircraft manufacturers do not want to miss the boat: thus, the American Boeing has invested heavily in the American start-up Wisk Aero, which has developed an unmanned eVTOL, presented at Le Bourget.
“We don’t have a plan B to have an optional pilot. We are absolutely determined to have the first autonomous aircraft certified, ”insists Brian Yutko, the leader of Wisk, who does not give a precise timetable. But keep in mind the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.