Uber to Launch Flying Taxis by 2020

By 
Jackson Lewis, Associate Editor

uber air

SAN FRANCISCO -- Uber is getting serious about its plan for a flying taxi service.

The app-based ride-hailing service has released promotional videos and a rough timeline for its plans to bring a safe and affordable air taxi service to Dallas and Los Angeles by 2020. The company refers to the burgeoning concept as Uber Air.

Six architectural firms recently revealed their concepts for the Skyports the flying taxis will take off from. Uber has not chosen which firm it will hire to create the Skyports, but they are designed to facilitate anywhere from 600 to 1,800 liftoffs per hour. The concepts range from honeycomb-like structures to tree-laden cylinders potentially built over highways.

Uber’s flying car service is designed to function much like its current road-bound service. Customers will have the ability to use their Uber mobile app to reserve their spot in an air taxi.

Read on for more on Uber’s flying-car concept, the company’s many scandals and how flying taxis could affect c-stores …

The ride

humphreys partners architects uber elevate mega skyport

The concept air taxis, also known as electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles, are shaped like catamarans with small propellers dotting the aircraft. The cars are designed to reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. The propellers create vertical lift to reach the correct altitude. Once the vehicle reaches an acceptable altitude, another rotor activates for forward thrust, using the wings for lift.

While Uber’s ultimate goal is a fully automated flying taxi service, Uber Air will launch with human pilots behind the wheel. Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer, told CBS that the craft is still in the design phase, but the company knows that the air taxis will include multiple propellers and run on electricity. Uber wants at least four passengers per vehicle in order to keep the service affordable.

Additionally, Uber has partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and NASA to regulate air traffic.

The scandals

humphreys partners architects uber elevate hero skyport

Providing an air-taxi service in two major cities by 2020 is a huge goal for any company, and an especially large goal for Uber, which has weathered multiple scandals in the past year.

Uber is still not profitable, and it lost $4.5 billion last year, according to CBS. The company also separated from its former CEO, Travis Kalanick, who was embroiled in a scandal related to sexual harassment and numerous lawsuits filed against Uber while he was in charge.

Safety concerns of flying taxis are only compounded by the firm’s recent March accident in Arizona involving the death of a pedestrian during a test of one of its self-driving cars. Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has stated publicly that Uber is not ending its autonomous vehicle testing unit. Uber is, however, undergoing a complete review of its safety procedures and does not currently have any self-driving vehicles on the road.

Despite these obstacles, Khosrowshahi is bullish about the company’s plans for air travel. “Ambition is what has created this company from the very beginning,” he told CBS. “Part of what made this company great is that we take big, bold bets. That’s part of the norms and the culture of this company, and this is another big, bold bet that we think ultimately is something that the cities of the future are going to need.”

The implications

uber

There are plenty of “ifs” involved in this flying-taxi concept. First, there is no guarantee that Uber will be able to launch the service given the company’s scandals and the sheer complexity of managing a flying taxi service.

Second, U.S. urban transportation has the potential to change drastically in the next 20 years or so, but it’s not as if we’re all going to wake up one day and decide to take a flying taxi wherever we go. Even if this concept is an immediate success, flying taxis will be one of many pieces in the urban transportation ecosystem.

Finally, this concept does not have to be a c-store disruptor. It could be an opportunity to innovate. If the concept drawings are any indication, these Skyports will be enormous structures—certainly large enough to fit a c-store for passengers who want to grab a snack before they hop on their flight.