At the company’s 2019 Uber Elevate conference, held in Washington D.C. this past June, Uber announced firmer plans to partner with well-established aviation companies like Embraer, Bell, Aurora, Pipistrel, and Karem, all of which are developing VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) vehicles specifically designed for air taxi services.
Further, they released the standard interior designs for the aircraft, dominated by sleek, white surfaces.
They’ve also established parameters for a VTOL that meets their specifications for flight, which partners must take into account when engineering vehicles that they will sell to be part of Uber’s fleet. They include maximum one-minute takeoffs and landings, with a cruising speed of 150-200 mph, as well as the ability to overcome inclement weather conditions.
Uber is the biggest player in the current ride-hail market by a wide margin, with to-die-for name recognition and brand awareness of their simple-to-use service. In future, to solve for crowded cities with traffic-choked streets (due in part to Uber’s existing cars and drivers), customers would use the Uber Air app to request a ride, travel to the point of departure, and board a flight to their destination.
Currently, Uber is debating about whether to use trained pilots for their VTOL vehicles or to rely on autonomous technology. After all, there’s already a shortage of pilots, and Uber Air could make it worse. Besides, no worthy professional pilot is going to work for wages similar to those earned by Uber’s existing squadron of drivers.
The Promise of Faster, Cheaper, and Cooler is Irresistible
Uber illustrated examples of the advantages of flying in a VTOL from San Francisco to San Jose, a distance of about 60 miles.
It would take nearly 2 hours in a current UberX, at a cost of about $111. In an Uber Air, however, travel time is cut to 15 minutes, with an as-the-crow-flies distance of 43.3 miles at an estimated cost of $129. Uber is aiming to make these rides affordable for the masses, and even less expensive overall than owning and operating your own car.
While helicopter companies operate a similar service, they tend to be unattainably expensive and require established landing pads with a significant footprint. VTOL vehicles are able to land on much smaller pads on existing parking lots and rooftops.
In alignment with that plan, Uber also unveiled designs submitted by architectural firms for the company’s planned Skyports, or vertiports. These take-off and landing points require a footprint of one or two acres – a significant amount of space when you’re talking about the crowded metropolises Uber wants to service. But, Uber says they will be able to handle up to 1,000 landings per hour. Some of the designs retrofit existing structures. One even places a Skyport over a freeway, reducing the need to clear existing infrastructure.
Plans call for Uber Air to launch by 2023. Testing will begin in 2020 in Melbourne, Australia as well as in Dallas and Los Angeles.
If Uber gets the necessary combination of safety, efficiency, affordability, and ease of use exactly right, Uber Air will prove itself a revolution in public transportation.