Bordeaux airport wants to become a “leader” in passenger transport by drone

Jump into an eVTOL when you get off your plane in Bordeaux, to reach the Arcachon basin or a wine estate in Bordeaux? Bordeaux-Mérignac airport believes strongly in this, and intends to become the first French vertiport by 2035, including the first airport to offer passenger flights by drone, or electric aircraft with vertical take-off and landing.

For this, the airport inaugurated this Thursday the very first drone flight test zone in an airport environment in France. On the occasion of the UAV Show, European professional drone exhibitiondrone demonstrations of all kinds took place all day, on a protected perimeter of approximately 200 meters by 200 meters, and approximately 500 meters from the airport runways.

The first drone testing zone in an airport environment was inaugurated this Thursday at Bordeaux-Mérignac airport.
The first drone testing zone in an airport environment was inaugurated this Thursday at Bordeaux-Mérignac airport. – Mickaël Bosredon / 20 Minutes

Commercial airliner traffic was not interrupted throughout the duration of the tests, which required the participation of the air gendarmerie, the DGAC (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) and airport controllers. , so that everything goes smoothly.

“We want to work on the mobility of tomorrow”

“We are in the process of carrying out a plan to transform our activities and we want to work on the mobility of tomorrow,” explains airport director Simon Dreschel. For this, you need actors, an ecosystem, and today we are bringing together partners to lay the first brick. »

Working brick by brick to slowly gain momentum and reach passenger transport is the strategy chosen by Bordeaux-Mérignac airport, “when others have adopted a different approach”, underlines Simon Dreschel. Paris Airport, with RATP and the Ile-de-France region, plans to test two lines of drone taxis during the 2024 Olympics, between Roissy – Charles-de-Gaulle and Le Bourget airports, around Olympic venues. If the operator obtains certification by then, these will however be piloted flights, while Bordeaux airport is considering unmanned transport, but in the longer term.


Despite the constraints of flying over urban areas, Simon Dreschel is convinced that “passenger transport by drone will arrive”, it remains to be seen when. “Not before 2035,” says the airport director. “There are a multitude of different machines, different projects, while waiting for all this to emerge, we want the infrastructure to be ready, and for us to be able to integrate them into air traffic. »

The drones were able to fly near the runways of Bordeaux-Mérignac airport.
The drones were able to fly near the runways of Bordeaux-Mérignac airport. – UAV SHOW

To date, the airport is not planning long drone journeys. “I mention the Arcachon basin or the wine châteaux, because it is consistent in terms of distance, and it makes sense to want to reach these destinations in a carbon-free way, which we really like, which is why we want to become a leader in this field. In all cases, these will be small chip leaps, with electrical modules with limited autonomy. » On the other hand, it is impossible to quantify the cost of such a service to date. “Whether it will be a premium product, or accessible to everyone, we don’t know yet,” recognizes Simon Dreschel. For the flying taxis of the Paris Games, a price of 110 euros per person per trip had been advanced.

Testing zones for drone operators

While waiting for this future development, several start-ups were able to test their machines on Thursday in the airport test zone, whether drones for agricultural spreading, mosquito control or surveillance. . “All these companies may have to fly their drones in air traffic, or in a complex urban environment, we will be able to certify that they are capable of doing so while respecting all safety rules,” explains François Baffou, director of Bordeaux Technowest, the Bordeaux Métropole start-up incubator, who participated in the development of this testing zone. “We ourselves will certainly have to use these drones, for example for the surveillance of our airport platform,” adds Simon Dreschel.

Bordeaux Technowest also officially launched another test zone during the UAV Show, this time to carry out long elongation. Cesa Drones, an entity of Bordeaux Technowest, signed a protocol on Tuesday with the Air Force, the DGA (Directorate General of Armaments) and the DGAC for the provision of a 6 km long corridor , which now connects the Hourtin drone testing zone and the long-elongated coastal zone of Montalivet, 100 km long and 5 km wide.

This will allow drone operators to leave directly from the Hourtin test zone to carry out long-range flights in this protected corridor above the ocean. “It will be open to start-ups and large groups, which need longer and longer zones, and to go higher and higher, to test their new technologies,” explains Nicolas Parant, director of Cesa Drones.

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