Uber is stepping up progress towards being able to start commercial operations of the Uber Air flying taxi service. Melbourne in Australia has been announced as the third ‘pilot’ city for an Uber Air service and the first outside the USA. The two U.S. cities test flights will also be conducted in, scheduled to start next year, are Dallas and Los Angeles. Uber hopes to start offering a commercially available service along specific routes by as early as 2023.
The Melbourne pilot route will connect the city’s airport and central business district. By car the journey currently takes around an hour or more in heavy traffic. An Uber Air flying taxi is expected to cover the distance in around 10 minutes.
Many believe flying taxis, prototypes of which resemble either small, light aircraft able to take-off and land vertically or large drones, will become an important part of the public transport mix over the next couple of decades. Quite a number of start-ups, as well as large tech companies such as Uber, are developing prototypes. And while the technology will still be perfected and improved upon the more significant barrier to commercial operations is already regulation and licensing rather than the technology itself.
Eric Allison, global head of Uber Elevate, the ride-hailing app and driverless technology company’s aviation division, believes that flying taxis helping to create a 3D urban transportation network is key to dealing with road congestion problems that continue to get worse:
“As major cities grow, the heavy reliance on private car ownership will not be sustainable. Uber Air holds enormous potential to help reduce road congestion.”
The company is developing its flying taxi prototypes in partnership with Nasa and the US Army as well as the aircraft manufacturers Embraer and Pipistrel Aircraft. A Paris laboratory which will lead Uber Elevate’s R&D is planned.
Uber is involved in what is shaping up to be a highly competitive race to develop the first commercially viable flying taxis, and have them approved by regulators to operate commercially. Google co-founder Larry Page is particularly active in the space. He is so convinced of the future of the industry that he has spread his risk by making major investments in at least 3 separate start-ups in the space. Larger aerospace companies such as Airbus are also working on their own models.