Uber has selected Melbourne as the third pilot city for its air taxi project, together with Dallas and LA. Source: Shutterstock

Uber has selected Melbourne as the third pilot city for its air taxi project, together with Dallas and LA. Source: Shutterstock

Uber to put flying taxis in Melbourne skies by 2023

FLYING cars and taxis have fuelled the imaginations of novelists for the longest time. But that may change in the near future.

Uber, the ride-hailing company that fled Southeast Asia, has recently announced that it would be trialing its ambitious flying taxi in three pilot cities – Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne – starting next year, with the aim to lunch commercially in 2023.

According to the company, the increased air mobility is the future of transportation and its service, known as Uber Air, will help ease congestion in large cities.

“As major cities grow, the heavy reliance on private car ownership will not be sustainable,” said Eric Allison, global head of the company’s aviation division Uber Elevate.

“For example, the 19-kilometer journey from the CBD to Melbourne Airport can take anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour by car in peak hours, but with Uber Air, this will take just 10 minutes,” added Allison.

While the actual vehicle itself is still in development, media reports suggest that Uber’s vision for the project would involve a futuristic, quiet, electric-powered vehicle that would carry passengers from and to sky-ports at the top of buildings.

The electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles which have yet to be certified by any aviation authorities would be booked via Uber’s app and will be flown by a commercial pilot initially. Uber foresee that they would eventually become autonomous.

Not without challenges

While the project is without a doubt ambitious, Uber seems to be aware of the challenges that lie ahead before it could roll out air transportation to the public.

Some of the critical challenges include certification from aviation authorities, battery technology which is crucial to powering the air-borne taxi, vehicle performance, safety, air traffic regulations, designing landing pads as well as pilot training.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesperson Peter Gibson concurred that there would be a lot of safety challenges with this project, but claims that his agency is well prepared for it.

According to him, a prior drone delivery trial by Google’s Project Wing in Canberra had gotten the ball rolling on the safety and regulatory issues that a flying taxi initiative would face.

“A lot can be done within the existing regulatory framework, but there may be areas we have to expand. This is day one of work starting — there are lots of issues to be worked out,” said Gibson.

Meanwhile, Uber is not the only firm that is exploring flying taxi as a service. Many other tech companies are engaged in a race to develop the first viable flying taxi and testing numerous prototypes in recent times.

While it is unclear how Uber will fare in making this project a reality, it will certainly be exciting to anticipate the development of the venture in coming months.