No, seriously, … (maybe)
"The technology is still in the development phase and will require batteries that are lightweight enough to power the aircraft."
Uber says Melbourne to have flying taxis by 2023
Melbourne will join Dallas and Los Angeles as pilot cities, with Uber claiming test flights will begin next year and commercial operations in 2023. Other Australian cities are expected to follow soon after.
However, Uber acknowledges critical challenges to bringing air transportation to the market include certification from aviation authorities, battery technology, vehicle efficiency and performance, air traffic control, cost, safety, finding landing pads and pilot training.
“There is going to be a lot of safety challenges involved in this — that’s obvious — but we are certainly well prepared for this,” said Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman Peter Gibson.
Mr Gibson said the drone delivery trial by Google’s Project Wing in Canberra had pioneered some of the safety and regulatory issues that flying taxis would encounter.
“There will be new ones but we are certainly well developed to meet those challenges,” he said. “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.”
Image of a roof top sky port for Uber Air.
The ride-hailing company is pitching Uber Air as a road congestion busting service that will reduce travel time and “in the long term” transport thousands of people across cities for the same price as an UberX trip.
The technology is still in the development phase and will require batteries that are lightweight enough to power the aircraft.
However, aerospace engineer Dr Matthew Marino, a lecturer and researcher at RMIT, said the development of the technology was very rapid.
He said police in Dubai were already testing flying motorbikes known as Hoversurfs — a cross between a drone and a motorbike — although they can reportedly not stay airborne for longer than 25 minutes.
“In my expert opinion Uber’s target of introducing Uber Air to the market by 2023 is absolutely achievable,” Dr Marino said.
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said he was thrilled Melbourne had been chosen to help start what could become a new industry and revolutionise travel across the world. Melbourne was chosen ahead of Japan, France, Brazil and India after a deal with Dubai fell through.
Rideshare giant Uber has announced it will trial Uber Air in Melbourne.Credit:ninevms
The government would work with Uber Elevate — the division of Uber responsible for the aerial ride-sharing service — and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority ahead of the demonstration flights.
Mr Pallas acknowledged Uber had set itself an “enormous challenge” but said the company had a long history of successful innovation.
“The proof of the pudding will be in the demonstration of the technology. We still have some distance to travel but I think the potential for this industry is profound.”
However, he said the benefit of Uber Air would be to get some people where they needed to go in a hurry. “Let’s not overemphasise the value this sort of travel will have on congestion”.
Mr Pallas said the state government would always be focused on investment in “terrestrial infrastructure”, which would remain the principal way of moving people around.
He also said there would need to be engagement with the community on issues such as route alignment and amenity.
Image of Uber aircraft
Uber Elevate also announced partnerships with Australian companies Macquarie, Telstra, Scentre Group as well as Melbourne Airport, as part of the project.
Uber’s concept video shows a telegenic career woman smugly looking down at vehicle-clogged highways from her flying taxi before being delivered to the bosom of her family in time for dinner.
“As major cities grow, the heavy reliance on private car ownership will not be sustainable,” Uber Elevate global head Eric Allison said.
“For example the 19 kilometre journey from the CBD to Melbourne Airport can take anywhere from 25 minutes to around an hour by car in peak hour but with Uber Air this will take around 10 minutes.”
However, Dr Chris De Gruyter, a vice-chancellor’s research fellow in the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT, said Uber Air wasn’t going to help with managing Melbourne’s urban transport problems.
"These vehicles are very low capacity — similar to what a car could carry — while there are also questions about if these vehicles will create visual clutter in the sky and how environmentally-friendly they are,” he said.
“Another risk is ‘empty running’, where there are no passengers, but the vehicle has to travel to pick people up from another location.”
Jewel Topsfield is Melbourne Editor of The Age.
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