Industry Insight: Groupe ADP

Groupe ADP: A strategic integrator and a catalyser of the advanced air mobility ecosystem

The Holistic Vision

Airports are key mobility stakeholders in the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)* ecosystem, given that airport-city connections are projected as one of the first viable use cases for this industry. Drawing on its major presence in the Paris Region and abroad, as well as its expertise in the fields of airports and airfields management, operations, planning, engineering and construction, Groupe ADP positions itself as a key player and one of the first movers in the Urban Air Mobility ecosystem in France and worldwide. Our vision of this ecosystem is one that is not solely focused on the e-VTOL vehicle. It combines the vehicles, ground infrastructure, operations, safe airspace integration and management, as well as passengers and operators’ services: a holistic vision ensuring successful service rollout.

Group ADP has a unique position in Europe via its integrated airports network, including three airports which are Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Paris-Orly, and Paris-Le-Bourget, in addition to general aviation airfields, including the Paris city heliport. This network of assets is highly valuable for the future operation of e-VTOLs, offering potential landing and take-off sites, as well as maintenance and storage sites.

The future Charles-de-Gaulle Vertiport infrastructure dedicated to UAM services. In the background the iconic CDG Terminal 1.(historical iconic Terminal 1 in the background, newly designed Vertiport in the foreground) © Groupe ADP

*Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) as defined by the FAA, builds upon the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) concept by incorporating use cases not specific to operations in urban environments, such as:

• Commercial Inter-city (Longer Range/Thin Haul)

• Cargo Delivery

• Public Services

• Private / Recreational Vehicles

Fostering Partnership in the Paris Region

In this highly competitive environment, Groupe ADP has established a strategic partnership with RATP, the mobility service provider for the Paris Region, which will provide the expertise, know-how and set of assets. With the support of the civil aviation authorities and the Paris Region, and alongside a community of industrial partners, we have managed to position the Paris Region as a pioneer in the fields of sustainable aviation and as one of the industrial hotspots for UAM. In the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) study on the societal acceptance of Urban Air Mobility in Europe published in May 2021, Paris was noted as the most suitable city to have an airport shuttle and sightseeing service using e-VTOL vehicles. Given the city’s configuration and urban distribution, as well as its tourism attractions, this new form of aerial mobility is considered to be a catalyst to better connect residents and tourists within the Paris region and a complementary mode for airport connections.

At Paris Pontoise Airfield  (Group ADP)

From left, Franck Margain, Paris Councillor in Choose Paris Region; Edward Akrwright, Deputy CEO of Groupe ADP; Florian Reuter, CEO of Volocopter; Valérie Pécresse, President of the regional council of Paris Region; and Catherine Guillouard, Chairwoman and CEO of RATP at the launch event for Re.Invent Air Mobility initiative, with Volocopter’s VoloCity in the background.  © Volocopter

Testing and embracing the public perspective

Testing all key components of this ecosystem is crucial in ensuring the transition towards operational scale-up and acceptability. By effectively engaging and consulting local communities from the outset and integrating their feedback into the development of this transport solution, stakeholders would be a step closer to achieving UAM public acceptability and its implementation.

Following the first public flight demonstration of an e-VTOL in France at the Paris Air Forum in June 2021, an experimental site dedicated to Urban Air Mobility was officially inaugurated in November 2021 at Groupe ADP’s Pontoise – Cormeilles-en-Vexin airfield, in the presence of French Minister of Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, alongside national and local authorities who reaffirmed their strong support for the deployment of the advanced air mobility branch. This sandbox is set in an existing and secure aeronautical setting environment in a peri-urban location 35 km northwest of Paris.

Follow this link for a deep dive into the Paris Region UAM roadmap and how we are making it happen for the 2024 Olympic Games, taking a closer look at the first European Advanced Air Mobility Sandbox (testing environment) and the key milestones of our industrial community. Globally, we are aiming at extending this vision and leveraging our expertise in Paris to develop overseas projects. Through its international network of 28 airports worldwide and its consultancy and operations offices in New-York, Hong-Kong and Dubai, Group ADP extends its footprint beyond the Paris Region to territories including Asia, the Middle East, Africa, America, and Europe.

The Pontoise Airfield AAM Sandbox (Group ADP) © Groupe ADP

Asia Prospects: Our view on market potential, challenges and opportunities

Potential high demand in Asia mega cities

Asia is potentially a huge UAM market for a number of reasons. Population growth and urbanization in Asian countries means that megacities are growing at a quick pace that could put a lot of pressure on the infrastructure development. This creates congestion in mobility, which in turn leads to economic loss of opportunities. The mobility behavior of citizens in Asian megacities also encourages the emergence of an evolutionary on demand mobility solution, which can get people from A to B in a fast, stress-free manner. The concentration of high-net-worth individuals in a few major Asian cities makes the price of first stage UAM service rather affordable.

Key figures of UAM hot spots in APAC ©Groupe ADP

First movers paving the way

The first movers in APAC region are Singapore, Japanese cities, Seoul and Melbourne, these regions either have ongoing UAM projects or clear road maps to creating them. Singapore held the first UAM demonstration at Marina Bay back in 2019, Skyport is on track launching its commercial UAM service in Singapore in 2022/2023, its vertiport design is under authority approval process. Japan UAM is led by Japan Airlines with the purchase of 100 Volocopter vehicles and up to 100 Avolon vehicles, the target is to launch UAM services in 2025 at the Kansai EXPO. In Seoul, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) and the Korean Airport Corporation (KAC) are working towards the goal of launching UAM service in 2025, the announcement of the “N.E.S.T” project aims at developing a UAM airport city next to Gimpo Airport in downtown Seoul. Melbourne, chosen by Uber Elevate back in 2019 as one of the first five cities to launch  Uber’s UAM services, issued a Request for Interest (RFI) to study the UAM ecosystem in Victoria.

The number of Asian cities and regions exploring UAM is increasing, when the cities are studying technical and economic aspects for UAM, the regulatory framework remains one of the biggest challenges. Regulators need to address not only the vehicle certification, operation safety, public acceptance, but also the overall UAM integration into the existing aviation/transport industry.

Asian regulators are working with the UAM stakeholders and going through an “R&D” process: experiment, improve, inspired by or adopt other regulatory frame work e.g. EASA’s UAM framework.

Hong Kong – Guangdong – Macau Greater Bay area has a huge potential but may need a bit of time to emerge. The South China inter-regional Greater Bay Area (GBA) lies over the three dynamic regions of the Pearl River Delta. Hong Kong – Guangdong – Macau GBA is building up a megalopolis of almost 90 million inhabitants and 1.7b USD GDP over 11 main cities coordinated on many levels including economic and transportation.

The economic development of the whole GBA will partially rely on the capacity of the main cities to not only develop on their own but also interact with each other, thus creating synergies and a global interconnected network of talent, investment capacity, economic coordination and cooperation between authorities, universities and industries over a densely populated area.

Thus, transportation systems and infrastructures will play a leading role in the urban developments of the region. Air transportation in particular will bring connectivity at international, national and inner-region levels.

At international and national levels, the aviation industry is expected to grow fast in the GBA with already large airports currently developing new runways and terminal capacity to create one of the most dense air traffic space over the coming decades. Within the GBA these airport infrastructures should complement each other and offer multiple combinations for air travel and cargo operations, relying then on intermodality between transportation systems.

Over the years, by improving connectivity between these airports and its main metropolises the GBA will generate numerous economic interactions and bring mutual benefits between different cities and areas. Large urban developments as well as air traffic integration between different parts of the GBA are identified as both key challenges and opportunities.

At a local level then, improving air connectivity directly means to consider urban air mobility over the GBA as a new way of connecting cities and enlarging intermodality between the main economic areas. Considering its promising economic development, there is no doubt the Hong Kong – Guangdong – Macau GBA offers a huge potential for new air mobility solutions with a large and attractive market as well as technological and infrastructure capabilities.

Nevertheless if the GBA has a great potential for urban air mobility solutions and services, the main challenge would be on the regulation framework where the area relies on three different airspaces regulated by different civil aviation authorities and standards: Mainland CAAC, Hong Kong CAD and Macau CAA need to coordinate to ensure different airspaces are operated safely and efficiently in an already dense air traffic as it used to be back in 2019, pre-COVID-19.

As commercial helicopter flights already exist between Hong Kong Victoria Harbour and Macau Taipa ferry terminal, and some experimental ones between Hong Kong and Shenzhen have already been operated, we know such a coordination is possible and is mainly a matter of time. This is encouraging both for a regulatory matter and a market readiness purpose even though facing the challenge of defining in the lower airspace a common way to operate and regulate visual flight routes at the GBA scale may take a bit of time and effort.

Key figures of the four key cities in GBA ©Groupe ADP

Heightening the ecosystem’s readiness

The time needed for GBA regulation to get ready should be used to mobilize the local UAM industry

The regulation may take a few years to be operational and may become the critical path for first GBA commercial air taxi flights. We can reasonably assume the other technical challenges and related certifications for aircrafts and pilots be solved faster for the first movers.

In the meantime, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of administrative readiness, public acceptance, market attractiveness and economic models to emerge within GBA main cities. Main stakeholders including public authorities, private companies, research institutions and public have to be informed, reassured, and sometimes educated on air taxi opportunities.

Hong Kong being an international finance center, in its dense urban environment where business people could afford today a helicopter flight, there may be a market for air taxis as soon as accessibility conditions can be reached. This is where location of vertiports becomes a strategic lever for this industry to start up. Key spots should be chosen for first vertiports so that they can demonstrate the economic benefit of saving time by air taxi with a high level of comfort over the entire trip. It means both ends of the air taxi flight must be efficiently connected to high value areas of economic activities or larger scale transportation centers for instance, an airport or a high-speed train station. Thus major transportation infrastructures are obvious locations for first vertiports.

Then economic centers should be chosen to offer first commercial flights on relevant legs. In Hong Kong, the Victoria Harbour offers some very focal points as the Central Business District (Central), the West Kowloon site or the KaiTak former airport site currently under urban renewal. Not to forget as well the large Northern Metropolis project in the northern territories close to Shenzhen where smart infrastructures and transports are planned to create innovative opportunities and highlight cutting edge solutions over the next years in different sectors.

As already done in some other capital cities, Hong Kong may need a specific study to cross check main location criteria for vertiports such as customer segmentation and location in the business and governmental districts, existing transportation connections, inhabited areas to consider for safety reasons, wind exposure, aircraft trajectories in the airspace etc. However such an economical and technical analysis would probably be done only after local stakeholders confirm their interest in the UAM starting up industry and related opportunities.

Hong Kong could set up a UAM demonstrator to align public and private interests

How to emulate then in Hong Kong the interest of stakeholders for this upcoming industry and unusual way of integrating air transportation in the urban environment? Other major cities as Singapore, Seoul or Paris have opted for a demonstrator project or event to foster a mutual interest between industrial manufacturers investing in air taxis conception and prototyping, local air navigation regulators, research institutes or universities and other private companies or investors willing to be part of this venture and not to miss potential opportunities.

A demonstration involving local key stakeholders such as research institutes and public agencies related to urban development or air transportation may be an interesting way to explore opportunities in Hong Kong and identify key challenges to face over the coming years.

The aim of a demonstration project would clearly be to experiment and get feedback from governmental bodies and agencies, to sound the interest from private stakeholders and sponsors, and to test public acceptance and appetite, without taking any major industrial or economic risk at this very early stage. Indeed, there is no need for economic models to be mature or demonstrated yet, or for a regulation framework to be in place or even discussed.

As a major hub in Asia and one of the main cities of the Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong is an ideal place to highlight the most advanced air taxi prototypes and vertiport concepts. It would also demonstrate the aviation sector still has the capability to support Hong Kong urban development as it has been doing over the past decades with the emergence of a large international airport hub still under development.

Now the question is how long do we have to wait for this demonstration show to happen in Hong Kong?

Concept of an Urban Air Mobility Show in Hong Kong

Located in a very central spot at the heart of the buzzling city, near the shoreline with an impressive skyline, the UAM exhibition would be inspired by major air shows where a static area invites the public to get very close to the aircrafts. Different concepts of vertiports could welcome people to envision what a future way of taking an air taxi may be. Further above the Victoria Harbour waters in a dedicated and limited lower air volume, an air taxi is demonstrating how it moves smoothly, without any significant noise and no fuel emission. This unprecedented air mobility show would demonstrate the innovation and technological development Hong Kong is looking for based on a large pool of talents in urban development and air transport solutions.

©Groupe ADP

Background photo credit: Central Venue Management Limited

GDP Data Source