those taxis that will fly soon

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With nearly 170 prototype flying taxis created around the world, some of which are already operational, this mode of transport is shaping the urban mobility of tomorrow which will be… air. From start-ups to major aircraft manufacturers, it’s a race, despite the brakes to be lifted.

To connect the outskirts to the city center, two cities between them or to facilitate travel within metropolitan areas, the flying taxi could be one of the solutions of tomorrow for the transport of passengers (individual and collective) and goods. A scenario that still seems very futuristic, but which may see the light of day in the next five years. As Earth’s space becomes saturated, will mobility move in the air? Some 170 flying taxi projects illustrate the dynamics of this promising sector, in which the German start-up Volocopter was a pioneer by carrying out the flight tests of its prototypes in 2011. And above all, they meet the sustainable mobility requirements that are now favored the communities.

40,000 to 60,000 flying devices by 2035

According to a study carried out in November 2019 by the firm Oliver Wyman, the flying taxi market could represent 30 billion euros in 2035, with 40,000 to 60,000 flying machines in 60 to 90 cities. The ultra-saturated Asian (Singapore, Shanghai) and American (Los Angeles, Sao Paulo) metropolises would be the first to launch. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published a study showing a European market of approximately 4.2 billion euros in 2030. Enough to generate 90,000 jobs.

The Volocity of Volocopter. © Volocopter

For Bruno Even, president of Airbus Helicopters, there is no doubt that the segment will take off: “The global market could eventually represent several thousand devices per year, but it will settle gradually, depending on the evolution of technologies, regulations and social acceptability. “ In Europe alone, more than half a dozen companies have already announced the development of flying taxis for the transport of passengers or for unmanned freight. “I think the commercial use of air taxis can start in 2024 or 2025”, even believes Patrick Ky, executive director of EASA).

Honda, Toyota, General Motors, Airbus, Boeing, the German start-ups Lilium and Volocopter, the French start-up Ascendance Flight Technologies, the Japanese start-up SkyDrive, the Chinese Ehang, Uber Elevate (a subsidiary of Uber) … aircraft manufacturers , the automotive industry and start-ups clearly intend to develop their offer in the urban air mobility sector and position themselves in this market.

30,000,000,000

30 billion euros is what the flying taxi market could weigh in 2035.

Different types of flying taxis

Number of passengers, range, speed, journeys: all flying taxis are not the same, but they have in common the fact that they are 100% electric and have vertical take-off and landing (VTOL, “Vertical and Take Off Landing”). At Airbus, the latest prototype presented on September 21, CityAirbus NextGen, can carry four passengers and a pilot, cover a distance of 80 km for mainly urban connections and fly at 120 km / h. The aircraft manufacturer is targeting a first flight in 2023 and entry into service with certification in 2025. “We are in the process of creating an entirely new market, which meets both the needs of urban air mobility and environmental and social concerns”, says Bruno Even.

The CityAirbus Nextgen is Airbus’ third flying taxi project. © Airbus

The flying taxi SD-03 from the Japanese start-up SkyDrive made its first flight on August 31. Its prototype is intended for short distances, between 20 and 30 km, and its speed is 60 km / h. With its VoloCity flying taxi, the German Volocopter is the first to obtain European certification for test flights in a restricted area. If the German drone is already used to transport medical equipment to Bavaria, commercial flights are planned for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, as well as a first taxi service between Roissy-CDG and a site at the gates of Paris. It can travel 35 kilometers at a maximum speed of 110 km / h, and carries two people (a pilot and a passenger, or two passengers in a possible automated version). As for the fastest flying taxis, it should come out of the German factories of Lilium. The Lilum Jet, equipped with two pairs of wings, can carry five passengers and, above all, connect the big cities between them since its autonomy will be 300 km and its speed of 300 km / h.

Manufacturers are prepared for 20 to 25 minute flights downtown, but the infrastructure is lacking.

Guillaume Thibault

Advisor on air mobility for the firm Oliver Wyman

Technological and regulatory obstacles to be removed

In fact, the transport of the future is only in its development phase. The obstacles to city traffic are technological and legal. The question arises of the autonomy of the batteries and the manufacture of charging stations. The “stations” for taking off and landing these eVTOLs, the “vertiports”, have not yet been developed. As Guillaume Thibault, adviser on air mobility for the firm Oliver Wyman, explains: “Manufacturers are ready for 20 to 25 minute flights downtown, but the infrastructure is lacking. Equipping a city of 8 million inhabitants with 500 flying vehicles should represent 400 million euros of investment. “

The question of cost remains a major issue, with the production and operation of these flying taxis sometimes costing up to 1 million euros per taxi. And a 15-minute trip could cost around 300 euros: a price far too high to become popular – even if Uber is already seeking to make this type of service accessible by leveraging shared fleets. In Paris, the RATP (associated with Airbus and ADP for the authorization to put aircraft into circulation) requires that the trip costs between one and two euros per kilometer.

170

This is the number of flying taxi projects in the world to date.

If the technology is ready, the regulations are not yet. What about securing travel, allocation of air corridors, regulation of air traffic, noise pollution, etc.? “EASA has already started the certification process for some of the designs and plans to give the first green lights for light machines by around 2024”, says its president Patrick Ky. And, with the General Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGAC), it will have to answer these questions already well advanced in order to allow flying taxis to enter into circulation in Paris for the Olympic Games of 2024 .

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