Uber’s aerial taxi play

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Uber’s flying taxis are taking off, as the transportation upstart looks for new ways to shorten trips made long because of distance or traffic congestion. Flying cars were once nearly the exclusive domain of tech aphorisms (“You promised us flying cars, but instead we have x.”), but now they are actually being put into gear in the form of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. Over the last couple of days at the Uber Elevate summit in Los Angeles, the company further laid out its own ambitious plans to develop and commercially deploy air taxis by 2023.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who has been at the helm for less than one year, admitted he wasn’t initially 100 percent on board for Elevate, he said at the Uber Elevate Summit. It took a couple of sessions and some reviews of the math for him to be sold on it, he said.

“For me the aha moment came when I started understanding that Uber isn’t just about cars,” Khosrowshahi said. “Ultimately, where we want to go is about urban mobility and urban transport, and being a solution for the cities in which we operate.”

Uber Elevate is Uber’s all-encompassing term for its initiative to launch uberAIR, which is the its aerial electric ride-hailing service, as well as any other initiatives (think food delivery) that may benefit from air transport. Once Uber’s vision is fully implemented, Uber says the service will be cheaper than the cost of owning a car, on a per-passenger, per-mile basis, and autonomous. At launch, however, pilots will be required.

In the U.S., Uber is aiming to launch first in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Frisco, Texas, areas and LA. Last year, Uber said it would also aim to start testing in Dubai by 2020, but that’s no longer the case. Instead, Uber now has an open call out to interested international cities to describe the clear need for aerial transit, the enabling conditions of the city and local government commitment.

In order to launch uberAIR, Uber needs the actual vehicles, skyports for them to land on, as well as batteries. The company won’t be developing and producing its own vehicles. Instead, it’s relying entirely on its aerospace partners — some of which have been developing aircrafts for decades.

“There’s a lot that has to come together,” Khosrowshahi said about partnerships. “We absolutely know that we cannot make this happen ourselves.”

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