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Flying taxis: the new kid hovering over the block

The latest innovation in the field of urban mobility could soon be buzzing over our heads. For some, it’s a science fiction dream come true. For others, however, it’s an unwelcome intrusion. ‘It has the potential to be a major development.’

Flying taxis at the 2024 Olympic Games

There’s something about Paris – ‘The City of Light’ – that doesn’t just inspire artists, writers and musicians. The city has a lot to offer innovators in mobility too. For one thing, it was the birthplace of ride-sharing company Uber. And this summer might see the introduction of flying taxis at the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris. While the city’s Deputy Mayor thinks this is just a fanciful idea for the rich, several Paris airports and local public entities think it’s a brilliant idea, as does Volocopter, the company behind the aircraft. At a cost of €200 per person for a short flight, it could be argued that these trips are unaffordable for most.

What are flying taxis?

They’re not helicopters, and they’re not exactly drones in the traditional sense either. Flying taxis are a form of aircraft that, like helicopters, can take off and land vertically. But unlike helicopters, they are electric and are lightweight. While helicopters are flown by pilots, this type of aircraft can be remotely piloted (though the flying taxis at the Paris Olympics would be manned).

So, this remotely controllable aircraft could be compared to a drone, although drones don’t traditionally carry passengers. But that’s also changing. The verdict? They’re a hybrid form of aircraft, best described as drones that are able to carry both passengers and cargo, depending on their mission.

Benjamyn Scott, lead researcher on urban air mobility

Unmanned aircraft: the options are endless

‘The options are vast with this type of aircraft,’ says Benjamyn Scott, a researcher at Leiden Law School. ‘In addition to taxiing, they can be used for cargo delivery.’ These aircraft are already being used to transport medicine to remote areas such as Rwanda and – closer to home – to offshore installations on the Dutch island of Texel. These examples show that, as with any innovative technology, its use isn’t necessarily inherently good or bad. Still, gadget lovers are sure to welcome the parcel delivery service as seen in the Amazon Prime Air advert featuring Jeremy Clarkson.

Legal issues

Unsurprisingly, it’s not easy to bring these aircraft to market because of the myriad of options and their potential impact on everyday life. After all, they would be flying in the same uncontrolled airspace (without supervision by air traffic control and for which no clearance is required) as police and ambulance helicopters. In collaboration with PhD candidate Öykü Kurtpinar, Scott has set out to explore the legal issues surrounding innovative air mobility. ‘A key issue is liability,’ says Kurtpinar. Much will depend on how the technology is to be used. Scott adds: ‘Liability will depend also on whether the aircraft is manned or unmanned. If it’s unmanned, the acceptable level of automation needs to be considered. Suppose an accident occurs… was it the pilot’s fault or was it caused by an AI malfunction? Should that matter when considering liability?’

Öykü Kurtpinar, who is writing a PhD on Innovative Air Mobility


The issue of safety is inextricably linked to the issue of liability. Given the recent issues with aircraft – for example Boeing has had to take extreme measures relating to its aircraft on a number of occasions – the safety of this new form of air mobility is an obvious concern. Scott: ‘Currently, normal aircraft safety measures are being applied.’ However, he adds that this standard, which is based on super-safe testing, will cause delays to the launch of the technology: ‘Due to the strict safety standards for aircraft, the likelihood of a crash would be extremely rare. Air travel is the safest form of mass transport.’

Lack of European liability legislation

The researchers from Leiden University warn that if Europe wants to be the hub of innovative air mobility, it’s time for policymakers to start thinking about liability issues on a strategic level. The European Commission’s ‘Drone Strategy’, which was first drawn up ten years ago and since updated in 2022, now makes no mention of liability. That’s remarkable, says Scott, as it was an important concern when the strategy was first introduced. That needs to change. Scott explains: ‘Liability does not feature on the European Commission’s policy agenda, while one of the technologies underpinning this type of aircraft would be AI, which is one of the EU’s top priorities.’ Kurtpinar adds: ‘The issue of liability is so important that it simply can’t be left to the market actors. It might be a good time for the EU to step up.’

No going back

For now, it remains to be seen whether the flying taxi will be the star of the show at the 2024 Olympic Games, as Volocopter recently attempted to downplay expectations. But hearing Scott and Kurtpinar, we may eventually be unable to imagine life without this type of aircraft. Scott: ‘It has the potential to be a major development – just like when the first automobile was invented.’

Text: Helena Lysaght 

Photo 'VoloCity flies over Paris - Rendering': © Volocopter GmbH – All rights reserved.

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