Airbus has partnered with the operators of Paris’ airports and public transport system to demonstrate the feasibility of operating a system of vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) vehicles when the city hosts the Olympic Games in 2024. 

Airbus, Groupe ADP—operator of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports—and public transport operator RATP will be joined by the Paris Ile-de-France region and French civil aviation authority DGAC in conducting the study.

French transport minister Elisabeth Borne said she is glad “to see our big companies moving out of their comfort zones to go further, being even more creative, and setting themselves up to offer more creative mobility solutions.”

Gaining public acceptance of VTOL service will be key, “as it will only make sense if it is used,” she said. “Questions of safety and security, and respect for the environment, are of course essential, and these elements will be vital when it comes to working on the acceptance of these services by the populations they will fly over.”

Technologies such as electric propulsion are paving the way for addressing environmental and urban mobility issues, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said.

“In 2010 for the first time, half of the world’s population lived in urban areas and we think that’s going to rise to 60% in 2030,” he said. “There are a lot of megacities and a lot of congestion problems. The ‘second dimension’ is completely filled up with infrastructure, so making use of the ‘third dimension’ [urban airspace] makes sense, because in general it is not occupied.” 

“This partnership is a unique opportunity for us to develop technology solutions, a product, a regulatory framework, an economic model and to put in place a practical demonstration that we can show the world and that will allow us to take another step forward, with many more to go before a wider rollout,” Faury added.  

The project will use technological “building blocks” such as electric propulsion and autonomy to meet energy and sustainable development requirements. ADP’s network of airports and general aviation airfields around Paris should help the partners to test the system, as it works with Airbus, RATP and French authorities on questions such as infrastructure, air traffic control interfaces, security and acceptability, ADP CEO Augustin de Romanet said. 

Looking ahead to 2024, the routes VTOLs could fly would likely be over suburban areas, he added. “I can’t really see VTOLs flying over central Paris,” he said. 

Airbus is already present in the sector: On-demand urban helicopter booking platform Voom became part of Airbus Helicopters last year and the company is also developing the 100% electric, zero CO2 emission Vahana and CityAirbus VTOL demonstrators. 

As part of the project, RATP—operator of the city’s metro, bus and suburban train systems— will focus on intermobility, urban insertion and acceptability issues. ADP will help develop the service in the Paris Ile-de-France region through a network of airport platforms. The group will use its existing “vertiport” platforms to test elements of the operations. 

“The goal is to integrate the entire value chain: design and production; maintenance; flight operations; low-altitude air traffic management; urban integration and planning; infrastructure, both physical and digital; and passenger interfaces,” Airbus said.

Marie-Claude Dupuis, head of strategy at RATP, said the vehicles could eventually cater to business travelers needing to get from point to point quickly and emergency services, and could serve as shuttles between airports and major stations, or as tourist vehicles.

Helen Massy-Beresford, helen.massy-beresford@aviationweek.co.uk