French and Italian airports join forces to launch electric air taxi company

The air taxis would be similar to electrically powered helicopters (Dreamstime)

A group of airports in Italy and France have launched a company that will develop stations for electrically powered vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles.

Called Urban Blue, the company is jointly owned by airports in Rome, Venice, Bologna and Nice. The initial aim will be to decide how a “vertiport” network might operate, and what technical and financial problems have to be overcome. 

The airports issued a statement on Tuesday saying that they were seeking partners in related fields.

Nazareno Ventola, the chief executive of Bologna Airport, said in his statement: “Aeroporto di Bologna wants to be the protagonist of this future, and the partnership that we are going to develop is an opportunity to be fully seized and exploited, in the interest of our shareholders and our stakeholders.”

He added a list of bullet points setting out the business case for Urban Blue:

  • The market value for European VTOL services is estimated to be more than €4bn by 2030;
  • The company will be the only player active in the UAM (urban air mobility) segment with masterplanning and infrastructure management skills;
  • It has a strong specific experience of UAM, gained in the past two years;
  • It has identified a portfolio of vertiport projects with high development potential;
  • It has consolidated relationships with global VTOL manufacturers and operators;
  • It has an extensive network of trade and industrial relations for an international roll-out.

Urban Blue has already partnered with German developer Volocopter to work on feasibility studies.

Rome has said it plans to begin offering a VTOL taxi service in 2024. Paris is expected to begin flights in the same year, in time for the Paris Olympics. Italy as a whole is targeting large-scale commercial VTOL routes by 2030.

The four airports are located in areas that are struggling with road traffic congestion. The hope is that the VTOL taxis will help travellers reach their planes with less time and trouble than is not the case. The trip from central Rome to Fiumicino airport would be reduced from 45 minutes by conventional taxi to 15 by VTOL.

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