Uber air taxis set for Melbourne: what we know - JET Charge
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Uber air taxis set for Melbourne: what we know

14 June 2019

It’s been confirmed Melbourne will be the third city in the world to host ‘Uber Air’ flying taxis. How do they work? Where will they takeoff and land? Are they as loud as helicopters? We’ve dug through the press releases, reports, and announcements to see what Melbs has in store as commuters take to the air.

Uber dropped the news at their Elevate Summit on Wednesday, confirming that Melbourne will follow Dallas and Los Angeles in a trial of the flying rideshare technology (amusingly and confusingly dubbed the ‘Air Pilot’ program). Flight tests are slated to start next year, with commercial trips expected by 2023.

They were also happy to show off the aircraft being used for the program. Uber calls them VTOLs, short for ‘vertical takeoff & landing’. Perhaps not the sexiest name, but the potential of the technology more than makes up for it. They’re designed to be 32x quieter than helicopters and are 100% electric.

Uber have partnered with Telstra and Macquarie to create the infrastructure and telecommunications necessary to expand the program. They’re also working with the Victorian state government and Spectre Group to offer trips from seven Westfield shopping centres to Melbourne airport. Flights from the CBD are expected to take only 10 minutes, a huge reduction on the 25-to-60 minute car journey.

Uber’s plan is expected to include ‘vertiport’ takeoff & landing locations at popular car parks and Westfield shopping centres. According to the 2016 Elevate Whitepaper, Uber Air trips will likely be integrated with vehicle rideshare to and from vertiports. Customers will be directed to VTOL routes when equivalent road trip-times would be more than 40% slower.

Renders released this week suggest multiple VTOL variants are being developed with different passenger capacities. We’re expecting more news as the project moves into the testing phase next year.

Uber’s Australian Regional General Manager Susan Anderson on why Melbourne was chosen:

“Australian governments have adopted a forward-looking approach to ridesharing and future transport technology. This, coupled with Melbourne’s unique demographic and geospatial factors, and culture of innovation and technology, makes Melbourne the perfect third launch city for Uber Air.”

And we won’t have to worry about them dropping out of the sky. Uber have made it clear they’re anticipating regulatory hurdles everywhere they launch, so safety will be a top priority. They’ve stated the VTOLs will have independent motors for each of their four rotors and will be able to land safely even with two failures.

Despite all the information the 2019 Elevate Summit has given us, the 2016 Whitepaper is still the most comprehensive resource we have on Uber Air. There’s still no more news about charging or range on the VTOLs, but they’ll likely rely on a lot of the same technology powering EVs. Uber have previously expressed that they’re taking inspiration from Tesla on their electrification strategy.

The first VTOLs will require pilots, despite what some publications have suggested. Uber have shown interest in self-flying air taxis, however, and they aren’t the only ones to do so. German startup Lilium are developing their own 5-seat air taxi, and New Zealand-based Cora started testing on their pilotless version just yesterday.

The Cora Air Taxi

Once it gets off the ground (heh), the air taxi market is projected to explode in popularity. A 2018 NASA report projected air taxi & airport shuttle services alone have a potential $500 billion market value in the US. For comparison, the US domestic airline industry had a market revenue of $142 billion in 2018.

With such enormous potential and investment, Melbourne is in an incredibly valuable position as one of the first cities to benefit. Susan Anderson confirmed on Wednesday, “We will see other Australian cities following soon after.”

Are you excited to see air taxis in our capital cities? Does Uber have what it takes to translate rideshare to the air? Let us know and stay tuned to the JET Charge blog for more electric vehicle (and air taxi) news & updates.