(news.com.au) – The controversial ride-sharing company that disrupted the taxi industry now wants to introduce flying cars to your daily travel, and Australian cities are in its sights.
The head of Uber’s ambitious Elevate program revealed both Sydney and Melbourne are being investigated as potential candidates for the Jetsons-style project.And, as fanciful as it sounds, he claimed catching a mini flight to work will be “roughly the same price” as the cheapest Uber fare, and will make it “economically irrational to drive your own car”.
Australia’s Civil Aviation and Safety Authority confirmed it was ready to “meet challenges” involved in regulating air space for new flying vehicles.However, Australians would have to wait until at least 2023 to take their everyday commutes to the skies and it would not be inside a plane or helicopter but a specially designed vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft.
Uber chief product officer Jeff Holden, who visited Sydney to discuss the company’s air travel ambitions, said the flying car project was “something we’re dead serious about,” and planned to launch in Dubai and the United States city of Dallas in 2020.
But the service would roll out to more cities in 2023, and Mr Holden said Australia’s two biggest cities — Sydney and Melbourne — were on their wish list.“Sydney, for sure, is one city we want to look at, and partly because New South Wales has demonstrated a lot of interest in being forward-thinking,” he said.
“Sydney certainly has its congestion problems and I think the community would benefit from urban aviation.“If I wanted to get to Bondi from the city (with Uber Elevate), I could be there in just five minutes. That’s a very exciting concept.”
To get the project off the ground, Uber has teamed with five aircraft manufacturing companies, including Aurora Flight Services and Bell Helicopter, and provided a technical wish list for a VTOL passenger aircraft.
Mr Holden said Uber’s flying vehicles would be similar to a helicopter in the way they launched but would be significantly quieter, use rechargeable batteries, fit several passengers, and feature a host of safety additions, including a ballistic parachute.
Uber planned to convert building tops to “vertiports” for landing, launching, and recharging the aircraft, he said, and the aircraft would initially use portions of existing air space to comply with regulations.
“We’re not going to try to boil the ocean and change all air traffic management regulations at same time,” he said.“We’ll start carving up corridors in existing air space today. We’ll direct traffic around these areas.”
CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said regulating for flying cars, as well as jet packs, had been raised in Australia before but the Authority could only investigate solutions when aircraft were made available for testing.
“None of these things are impossible and they’ve all been discussed but they haven’t yet been settled,” he said.
“All of these projects require aviation solutions and we’ll be ready to meet those challenges when they come but how far away those (challenges) are that’s up to those spending money on developing the technology.”But he warned Uber Elevate aircraft could face challenges from drone flights under the system they described.
Mr Holden said, if established, Uber Elevate could shave the commute from San Francisco to Silicon Valley from two hours down to just 15 minutes, and the price of it could make users question whether they needed to use traditional cars.
“The cost of a shared trip will be roughly the same price as UberX today,” he said.“Ultimately, the cost of Elevate will fall below the cost of car ownership. It will get to the point where it’s economically irrational to drive your own car.”