Traffic is one of the most common problems that commuters face to the extent that we ought to think flying is the only solution. Although it seems to be a far-fetched idea, Uber is making air taxis the future of public transportation. And today, the leading ride-hailing app announced Melbourne as its third test city for Uber Air — following Dallas and Los Angeles.
As announced in Uber Elevate Annual Summit, demos or test flights would commence next year in these three cities, and its commercial operations in 2023. The news follows Uber and NASA’s partnership in building a flying taxi program.
As per the test flights, passengers are routed from one of the seven Westfield shopping centers in Melbourne and into the city’s main international airport.
The “electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft” will be driven by a pilot. The price is somehow similar to UberX, but it will drop passengers at rooftops or landing pads known as “Skyports.” Passengers will still use the Uber app to hail the Uber Air taxi, which can carry four passengers at a time.
Here’s why Uber Air decides to proceed its test flights in Melbourne
Melbourne wasn’t supposed to be the first international city to test Uber Air’s program — Dubai was, in fact, the top choice. The decision changed after Uber started to call out other global cities that support the need for aerial transit and enable conditions of the city and local government.
Uber’s Regional General Manager for Australia, Susan Anderson said in an interview that Australia is “forward-looking to [Uber’s] approach to ridesharing and [future] transport technology.” She added that the city’s “unique demographic and geospatial factors, and culture of innovation and technology, makes Melbourne the perfect third launch city for Uber Air.”
Melbourne beat its other competitors like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Paris, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Tokyo, and Sydney. It is also expected that other Australian cities would soon follow.
Advantages of having Uber Air as detailed by experts
Uber Air has the massive potential to reduce traffic congestion said Eric Allison, Uber spokesman and head of the company’s aviation division (Uber Elevate). He added that the 19-kilometer travel from Melbourne’s central business district to the airport takes typically 25 minutes to an hour, but with Uber Air, it will only take 10 minutes. He commented that as main cities continue to grow, it will not be sustainable to rely on private car ownership.
Also, Uber Air’s concept is safer compared to driverless cars, said Matthew Marino, an RMIT University aerospace engineer. Uber’s flying car eliminate all road challenges faced by daily commuters and drivers, making air travel a much safer option for transport than driverless cars.
Meanwhile, Center for Urban Research expert, Chris De Gruyter, remained skeptical over Uber Air’s significant impact of reducing traffic. “Uber Air has [a] very low passenger capacity. It is not yet sure if this will fix the traffic issue,” the Guardian reports.
There are still questions whether these flying cars can also cause traffic or aerial clutters and the possible effect in the environment.
Uber, however, stated that safety of the passengers is the primary concern. Anderson noted that they would continuously work with communities and governments to make sure that they build an “urban aviation rideshare network that is safe, quiet, [and] environmentally conscious.”
De Gruyter added that there is a risk of the empty running, wherein there are no passengers, but the vehicle needs to move and pick passengers from another destination.
Uber is working with NASA, the United States Army, and two aircraft manufacturers named Embraer and Pipistrel Aircraft, to build its flying taxis. Last 2018, Uber announced that it would open a flying taxi laboratory in Paris.
CNN Business stated that Uber is not the only company that aims to make flying taxis possible. There are also other companies such as German company Lilium, Rolls Royce, Vertical Aerospace, BlackFly, and Volocapter. Meanwhile, Blade is currently offering aerial ridesharing within New York City.
Though the commercial operations will start by 2023, Uber is currently helping other commuters in the skies. Uber will commence it’s helicopter service on July 9 departing from Manhattan towards JFK Airport, saving passengers an hour of travel time. The eight-minute flight will cost $200.