Air Taxi Companies Stole the Show in Paris Last Week

Several of the leading air taxi start-ups – including US-based Joby, Archer Aviation and Wisk Aero – showcased their vehicle prototypes at the annual Paris Air Show last week.  How did they do?   By all accounts, the three companies wowed  attendees with their technological design prowess as well as their readiness to move to full-scale production, pending regulatory approval.  Pre-orders for their vehicles, already strong in the case of commercial airline companies, are beginning to pile up.  Some major new deals were even negotiated on the spot.  Yes, it was an exciting day.

This was the largest Paris Air Show ever – some 400,000 flocked to the various exhibitions –  and the first since 2020, when COVID-19 forced the event’s cancellation.  It was also the first to feature an Air Mobility Section, a clear sign of how fast the drone industry, including the air taxi sector, is growing.

Thrilled attendees wasted no time closely inspecting the various vehicles on display, smelling their interiors, and fidgeting with their controls.  The only thing missing was an opportunity to actually test fly the aircraft.

For some, it was Mountain View, CA-based Archer’s highly-touted “Midnight” eVTOL air taxi that occupied center stage.  The new passenger drone, developed in coordination with United Airlines as an elite airport transport shuttle, features 4 seats, with a payload of 350 pounds for luggage.  The aircraft is configured to make continuous 20-minutes flights throughout the day, with just 10 minutes required between flights to allow for battery recharging.

For others, the real star of the show was Volocopter, the German-based firm that just completed an 18-month test of its Volovision air taxi in Saudi Arabia’s northwestern “smart technology” region.  The company – one of the few to offer  drones for short- and long-distance passenger travel as well as autonomous air cargo shipments – recently signed a contract with the 2024 Paris Olympics to provide air taxi travel to and from the event.  It’s an ambitious timetable – Volocopter’s production plant in Brischal, Germany is still being expanded – but representatives at the asir show expressed confidence that the firm’s drones would be ready.

San Jose, CA-based Joby also weighed in with its own distinctive air taxi concept, which resembles an on-demand ride-sharing service like Uber.  In theory, future consumers will be able to order their air taxi on a Joby app, and simply fly over road traffic, getting to their destination in record time.  Can Joby taxis stay out of the way of other air and road vehicles?  Where will the company’s taxis circulate or be stored between flights?  These were questions that remained unanswered.

Other major air taxi companies, including China’s EHang and France’s own Turgis and Gaillard, producer of the Aarok military drone, were also on hand at the Paris event.  If doubts still exist about the viability of air taxis, given a host of logistical and regulatory obstacles that still stand in the way of full-scale commercialization, little outright nay-saying was heard last week.  This was an opportunity to give full vent to one’s wildest Jetsonian dreams, not to express dour skepticism; there was magic in the air.

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