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French regulatory hurdles preventing ‘flying water taxis’ from taking off

An innovative project which would see 'flying river taxis' being deployed in Paris have encountered problems primarily due to strict regulatory hurdles in France.

Last year, yachtsman Alain Thebault launched a product which he crafted from a boat he used to break a sailing record in 2009. His innovative creation which he entitled Sea-Bubbles caught the imagination of the French public when first revealed by Thebault. He disclosed that Sea-Bubbles would be utilized as a fast taxi-service for the waterways of major cities.

The project garnered large support and generated significant investment and backing from private investors. The French entrepreneur has claimed that he expects to acquire between 50-€100M in funding by the end of next month.

French president Emmanuel Macron, has been described as 'pro-business' and during his campaign declared that he wanted France to become a 'start-up' nation. He even championed the pioneering 'flying water taxis' project when he was the Minister for the Economy. However, his office declined to comment when asked did he still support the initiative.

Sea-Bubbles has been presented with a series of challenges and regulatory red tape, but one of the main problems encountered is trying to convince Parisian authorities to raise the speed limit on the River Seine. Thebault has now expressed his fears that the firm will be held back by administrative bureaucracy if the idea does not take off.

Swedish windsurfing champion Anders Bringdal is a business partner in the project, but Thebault stressed that if they continue to face restrictions, then they won't hesitate to take Sea-Bubbles elsewhere. He said, "It's a road full of obstacles for two seabirds like me and Anders, but if it's getting too complicated, we'll go where it's the easiest."

The French businessman said that it took them two months for Sea-Bubbles to arrange a contact to lase two cars and a month for lawyers to register the company, a task that could've been completed in a couple of hours in other countries. The prototype of water taxi preserves its battery by rising out of the water at speed. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo voiced her support for the program after she took a ride up the River Seine in June.

However, the only chance Sea-Bubbles has of getting operations commenced if authorities in Paris raise the speed limit on the Seine so the water taxi can generate enough speed to rise out of the water. The request have thus far been rejected by the relevant authorities, and despite publicly voicing her support in June, the Mayor's office declined when asked to comment on whether she thought the speed limit should be increased on the River Seine. Sea-Bubbles received some initial funding from the state investment bank, but Thebault said it was 'demoralizing' when two separate applications for €200,000 in government subsidies were rejected. The reason for the rejection was the company was not a 'proven business case'. Thebault remains upbeat claiming that at least five other major cities from across the world has expressed their interest in Sea-Bubbles becoming part of their transportation system.