[conversation] Pierre Becquart, Head of Urban Air Mobility at RATP group

What does air mobility do for big cities?

The issue is less about urban traffic congestion – which this form of mobility doesn’t seem to solve, but rather how to complement cities’ global mobility solutions.

We recognize that urban air mobility technology is here. It’s not a question of foresight, especially considering that the first certifications for certain aircraft should be delivered by 2025. It’s more a question of knowing how urban air mobility technology can be incorporated in the city, beyond whatever manufacturers may promise, and in a way that makes sense and that everyone accepts. When we look at all the biggest cities in the world, we hypothesize that this new type of mobility will have a place in the urban landscape, and that we should prepare for this eventuality. This is one of the reasons behind the Re.Invent Air Mobility initiative for the Île-de-France region, which is supported by ADP, RATP and Choose Paris Region. Urban air mobility is close from a technological point of view, but still far enough in terms of uses and applications in the urban landscape.


What will passenger drones be used for?

In more practical terms, it’s about providing a fast, flexible and 100% electric-powered service, with infrastructure costs considered lower than various other modes of transport. When we look at urban air mobility, we focus on its ability to meet needs not covered by existing transport solutions, for distances that are a priori beyond 20 to 30 kilometers. Drones are certainly not the most suitable mode for transporting people from the inner city to the outskirts – even if big cities spread over a large surface area may be asking this question. When we consider the Île-de-France region, it’s a question of connecting to outer areas, to encourage a more balanced, polycentric development. Take the Paris Saclay conurbation and its remoteness, for example. The Grand Paris network will largely solve this problem, but air mobility could also help solve it too.


Who is the target market for urban air mobility?

This mobility solution is initially designed for emergency situations. The technology used is pretty expensive, even more so when the technology is emerging. This will likely mean that the service cost would be closer to that of on-demand mobility services, such as ride-hailing services or motorbike taxis. The targeted needs are initially related to health services, or fall within the scope of providing a rapid service from industrial or business centers. So it mainly concerns densely-populated areas with major industrial or economic activity.

Can you tell us about the Re.Invent Air Mobility call for expression of interest? What does this initiative bring to a company like RATP group, whose core business is mass urban transit?

RATP group’s involvement can be explained in two ways. The first is linked to the group’s expertise as a multimodal transport operator. We had to be involved in brainstorming ideas and helping a new mode of transport emerge and mature. The second corresponds to our drive to ensure that air mobility is integrated as best as possible into the urban landscape, especially in densely populated urban areas for which we have a lot of expertise in terms of urban planning and tool design aimed at both industrial, office and retail use. When it comes to aircraft and related systems designed for urban mobility, in practice you’ll find major aerospace manufacturers teaming up with startups heavily financed, for example, by the automotive industry. With this in mind, it was never a question of going it alone as either the RATP group or ADP. The idea behind Re.Invent Air Mobility is to find those with complementary skills, to build an ecosystem of partners for the Île-de-France region, and to bring together manufacturers, researchers and startups who each provide technological elements for this new mode of mobility, as part of an international competition. The call for expression of interest received more than 150 applications from 25 different countries. We selected 30 winners – including Volocopter and Thales – to carry out tests in areas such as acoustics and vibrations impact, operating methods and communications at the Pontoise airdrome.

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