The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Paris Officials Start Selecting Partners For Urban Air Mobility Trials

Paris officials are evaluating expressions of interest from more than 150 companies and organizations wanting to participate in its plans to make the French capital an early adopter of urban air mobility (UAM) services. The Choose Paris Region economic development agency, which is working in partnership with airports group ADP and ground transportation network RATP, says it expects to announce partners for the project by around mid-December.

Romain Erny, Choose Paris Region’s director for mobility and space, told FutureFlight that “we received very interesting applications from all over the world, which is an excellent beginning for our UAM initiative.” He said the agency will not be publishing the list of candidates for the project after the deadline for filing expressions of interest closed on November 13.

The first stage of the project, which is called the Re.Invent Air Mobility Challenge, will see the partners establish what Choose Paris Region calls “a living lab” to evaluate UAM operations at Pontoise Airport, 22 miles northwest of the city center. The initial target is to be ready to launch some trial commercial operations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games that Paris will hose in the summer of 2024.

During the first half of 2021, the airside zone at Pontoise will be modified to include facilities such as an 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.

Pontoise is owned by ADP, which also controls the main Paris international airports, Charles de Gaulle, Orly, and Le Bourget. According to Sebastien Couturier, ADP’s head of innovation and corporate venture, the group is exploring options for building vertiports at these facilities and also at the heliport at Issy-les-Moulineaux in the southern suburbs of Paris.

In June 2021, flight trials involving eVTOL aircraft are due to be held at Le Bourget, which is mainly used for business aviation operations. That same month, the Paris Air Show is due to be held at the site, which is 40 miles southeast of Pontoise.

The international call for expressions of interest announced on September 30 covered five key components for establishing a UAM network: 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); and “acceptability” (laboratories and research institutes dealing with social and environmental issues).

In September, German eVTOL aircraft developer Volocopter was announced as an initial partner in the project. It says that its two-seat VoloCity aircraft will be certified and ready to enter service “in two or three years.” It has previously conducted public flight demonstrations with the aircraft in Singapore; Helsinki, Finland; Stuttgart, Germany; and Dubai, UAE.

Speaking during a webinar organized by Choose Paris Region on November 17, Couturier said that “we now have some figures from a vehicle provider [presumably Volocopter] but we need to TEST!(params=) them in a real situation.”

As a first step toward winning public acceptance for UAM operations, the project team has consulted with the mayors of towns around Pontoise Airport. ADP now intends to do wider public consultation, taking advantage of its direct access to passengers and employees at its airports.

Couturier told the webinar that he believes support is building for UAM in Europe. “I see momentum from EASA, Eurocontrol, and the French civil aviation authority over the last few months for something very positive to happen, and experimenting in a real environment is a great start. There is a huge market [for UAM] in the Paris region and across the wider Europe.”

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.

Harrison Wolf, who is the lead for drones and tomorrow’s airspace with the World Economic Forum, told the webinar that stakeholder engagement is critical to advanced air mobility becoming a reality. “Paris is a leader, but if this is not done through a bottom-to-top approach with every stakeholder involved, it probably won’t happen,” he commented. “We need to talk about achieving a way to scalability [of services] where it is not just for the 1 percent.”

Francois Sillion, director of Uber Elevate’s Advanced Technologies Center in Paris said that his team are working on plans for scaling up UAM operations to the point where cities can have thousands of flights every day. “Probably it will be the case that the shape and modes [for UAM] will be different in different places around the world, partly because reliance on public transportation is culturally different,” he said. “Our long-term objective, operating at large scale, is to have a price-point per passenger and per mile that is on the same order as a ground Uber ride today.”

As part of its $23 million investment in the Paris center, Uber is sponsoring a chair at the Ecole Polytechnique university to support work on UAM public acceptance.

ADP has a shareholding in a UK-based group called Skyports that aims to design, build, and manage vertiports. It has not yet been confirmed as a member of the Paris project but would seem to be a likely candidate.