Olympics: Paris 2024 to move swimming from deprived area in massive drive to cut costs, 'flying taxis' to be tested ahead of Games

PARIS (AFP) – The organisers of the Paris 2024 Olympics announced a swathe of cost-cutting measures on Wednesday (Sept 30), which are set to slash €400 million (S$640.2 million) from the Games’ bill.

The most high-profile of the changes, which still have to be ratified by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), sees the swimming events removed from the socially-deprived area of Saint-Denis just north of the city and relocated to the financial district of La Defense.

Volleyball has also been moved from Saint-Denis which does, however, hold on to climbing and rugby sevens, which will be staged at the existing Stade de France.

The changes are expected to save €400 million from an initial budget of €3.8 billion.

The changes showed “responsibility, sobriety, popular commitment” while maintaining the “ambition” of the Olympics, said the president of the local organising committee (COJO), Tony Estanguet.

“We are not touching the sports programme,” he said after a board meeting of the organisers. “We are trying to fit everything into fewer sites.”

The swimming will now be staged in a temporary pool within the La Defense Arena, an all-purpose indoor arena which is home to the Racing 92 rugby team and, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, hosted concerts by stars including Paul McCartney.

The temporary pool will then be moved to Saint-Denis as part of the “legacy” in line with the original plans.

ECONOMIC CRISIS SPARKED BY COVID-19

Estanguet said the changes, which had been announced in principle in the summer, were necessary given “the uncertainty of the economic crisis” caused by coronavirus and also to offset the “extra cost” of additional sports.

Several new sports will be added to the Olympic programme at Paris 2024: climbing, breakdancing, skateboarding and surfing.

Estanguet, a three-time gold medallist in canoeing, also said that sponsorship revenue, for which a decrease was feared, already amounted to €502 million from a planned €1.1 billion.

A premium partner contract with the communications operator Orange, which has been in the works for several months, is expected to be signed on Thursday and two other so-called “level two” sponsors are also expected to sign up “between now and the end of the year”.

In mid-September, the departmental head of Saint-Denis, Stephane Troussel, warned against making the area “an adjustment variable” of the Olympics.

The loss of the swimming and volleyball has been compensated in part by the arrival of the climbing, which was originally due to take place in Place de la Concorde in the heart of Paris. The climbing wall will remain after the Games.

Troussel also eased concerns that the media village in the town of Dugny, close to Le Bourget airport, which was intended to be transformed after the Games into a residential district with 1,300 housing units, might fall foul of the cuts.

“The media village is saved, there are guarantees on that happening,” he said, after Wednesday’s meeting.

The board of directors also agreed to the reduction in the number of stadiums for the football tournaments from eight to seven.

The changes to the sites are expected to save €150 million, including €60 million from moving the swimming events, according to sources close to members of the board of directors. Other savings will be made on other items, such as transport.

Estanguet also confirmed that COJO “was still considering outsourcing part of its operations to outside operators”.

The final map will not be known until mid-December when it will go to the IOC for approval.

‘FLYING TAXIS’ TO BE TESTED

Meanwhile, “flying taxis” will start taking off from an aerodrome north of Paris as soon as next June, operators said, in a trial ahead of a vast tourist influx for the 2024 Olympics.

The experiment will take place at the Pontoise-Cormeilles-en-Vexin aerodrome some 90 minutes north-west of the capital by car, according to a joint announcement by the Ile-de-France region, airports operator Groupe ADP and the RATP public transport agency.

A drone-like, fully-electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL) dubbed VoloCity, produced by German company Volocopter, was chosen for the innovative trial with flying taxis in a peri-urban area, they said.

The partners said in a statement they had “decided to bring together all the conditions to make the emergence of this new mode of transport possible to complement the existing modes, whether for the public or for goods.

“Furthermore, the prospect of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games provides an exceptional opportunity to involve an entire industry in order to make Paris Region a leader in the global market of urban air mobility”.

The experiment will depend on the approval of residents, security protocols and air traffic regulations, said the companies.

In the first half of 2021, arrangements will be made for parking areas, recharging stations and ground markings for the demonstration.

Working with aviation safety agencies, the partners said “parking, takeoff and landing operations as well as operations around the vehicle, whether maintenance or electrical recharging, will be tested in a real aeronautical environment in June 2021”.

VoloCity is equipped with 18 rotors and nine battery packs. Each can carry two passengers with hand luggage, for a maximum payload of 200kg.

It flies at 110kmh, at an altitude of 400 to 500 metres, with a range of 35km.

Volocopter executive Fabien Nestmann said the craft’s makers hoped for full certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency within two to three years.

“We want a demo for the 2024 Olympic Games,” Valerie Pecresse, president of the Ile-de-France region, added at the launch news conference.

But it could take a decade for the project to be rolled out at scale.

In the quest to limit traffic pollution and ease congestion, the idea of flying taxis has taken route worldwide.

Volocopter has already tested its airborne taxi in different parts of the world, and last October chose Singapore for the first test in the heart of a city.

Several other companies are working on similar projects, including Boeing, Airbus, Toyota and Hyundai.

Earlier this month, Japanese firm SkyDrive showed its eight-propeller, manned compact vehicle flying around a test field.

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