Proposal to fly these air taxis in Paris during the Olympics brings pushback

Volocopter isn’t giving up

Volocopter’s plan to show off its two-seat electric multicopters by flying some routes in Paris during the Summer Olympics faces one familiar challenge and a new one.

Based in Bruchsal in southern Germany, Volocopter has previously partnered with airport owner Group ADP to build five vertiports in the Paris region for passenger flights with its VoloCity aircraft in July and August, as the games play out, and possibly afterward.

The new challenge is that members of the Paris city government have blasted Volocopter’s aircraft as wasteful and inefficient. The city wants the national government “to abandon this useless and polluting gadget in the service of the ultra-privileged in a hurry,” Dan Lert, Paris deputy mayor, said in a Feb. 8 post on X, formerly Twitter, according to an online translation of the original post in French.

The familiar challenge centers on permits and certifications. Volocopter has yet to receive a type certificate for the VoloCity from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, but the company’s CEO Dirk Hoke tells me he’s confident the certificate will be approved in the next six months. If such approval doesn’t happen in time for the games, Hoke says Volocopter could still fly through obtaining special permits from the French government.

“The best thing would be if we get all necessary certificates for commercial operations,” Hoke says. “But if we cannot get to that perfect case, we can do special permit flights with or without passengers. In my opinion, the highest probability is that we do special permit flights with passengers.”

Volocopter has sought approval for its Paris flights from the French transportation ministry, which was due to decide on the request by March. While the regional government of Ile-de-France has supported Volocopter’s plans, the Paris City Council has opposed it, leading to Lert’s tweet.

Lert and other local officials say their opposition is based on concerns about noise, safety for people on the ground and the amount of electricity required to charge batteries that power the VoloCity, which critics say far exceeds what an electric car would require to go the same distance.

Hoke acknowledges those criticisms but says the VoloCity is currently designed as an early version to demonstrate the capabilities of electric aircraft. He adds that future versions will be more efficient with five seats — one for a pilot and four for passengers.

The flights during the Olympics would be “a good way to convince people that this is a good thing to have in a city environment,” Hoke says. “It’s a new way of mobility. It is clear that we cannot continue to have each person having their own car.”

One proposed route of 13 kilometers would connect Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Paris-Le Bourget Airport. Another of 20 kilometers would connect the Paris heliport, today used for conventional helicopters, and the Aerodrome Saint-Cyr-l’École, a private airfield. Those routes were chosen for their proximity to various Olympic venues in the city.

Yet a third route from the heliport to the Paris city center has drawn the most vocal opposition, Hoke says. Aircraft on that route would land on a barge on the Seine river near the Austerlitz train station, just 3 kilometers from Notre Dame cathedral.

Hoke hopes that the central station will be approved because “it’s visible and it’s a cool, cool area to fly and land” with many tourists, he says. Fossil-fueled helicopters would never be allowed to land there because they are too loud, but the VoloCity is much quieter, Hoke says, with roughly the same noise level as a person talking next to you upon takeoff or landing.

The controversy in Paris may be a harbinger of issues that electric air taxis will face in other cities, speculates aviation consultant Chris Fernando, a principal with North Carolina consulting firm Hovecon.

“I think this a bellwether event and these issues will come up larger metro areas in the U.S. as well — noise, visual pollution etc.,” especially in affluent areas, he told me via email.

For his part, Hoke believes the VoloCity will be the first of dozens of electric air taxi designs under development in many countries to receive a type certificate. But he says there are some last-minute challenges in gaining the certification, which he says is normal for a novel aircraft design.

One of the problems encountered is that the VoloCity’s electric motor supplier, which Hoke declined to identify, has had difficulty supplying enough motors due to problems with its own supply chain, he says.

Still, Volocopter has built and equipped a manufacturing facility in Bruchsal and is on a pace to finish 18 VoloCity aircraft this year, Hoke says.

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Proposal to fly these air taxis in Paris during the Olympics brings pushback