Uber takes to the skies with air taxi trial in Melbourne

Uber Air Melbourne ridesharing
Uber customers will soon be able to press a button on their app and take a flight on-demand with Uber Air.

Ridesharing giant Uber is reaching new heights in Australia, literally, with the announcement that Melbourne will be one of three cities to first experience its new air taxi service, Uber Air.

The company today revealed the Victorian capital will join US cities Los Angeles and Dallas in a pilot of Uber Air flights from 2020, with commercial operations expected to follow in 2023.

One of the most exciting aspects of the plan, which was unveiled at a summit for the company’s aviation division Uber Elevate in Washington on Tuesday, is that these flights aren’t expected to cost an arm and a leg.

According to Uber, its vision is for electric aircrafts to transport passengers across cities “for the same price as an UberX trip over the same distance”.

In addition, the company said it aimed to help alleviate traffic congestion on roads.

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

“The 19km 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,” he added.

‘Where we’re going, we don’t need roads’

Uber is making Back to the Future’s ambitious vision of flying cars a reality, albeit five years later than Marty McFly’s 2015 visit.

Booking a flight is expected to be as simple as booking other ridesharing vehicles through the Uber app.

Passengers will travel in “quiet” electric aircrafts that look like helicopter-airplane hybrids that can take-off and land vertically from designated landing pads called “Skyports”.

The aircrafts are designed to accommodate the pilot plus four passengers and will operate on rechargeable batteries that are expected to use 90% less energy than standard helicopters and produce no direct emissions.

In an online video, Uber Elevate said its vision wasn’t to entirely replace ground travel options but to supplement some of the most congested routes in a city with a flight portion.

“Let’s say a car or a bike or some other form of transport takes you to what we call our Skyports, you would then fly five or 10 minutes over the most congested part of your journey and when you land there would be another form of transportation to take you to your final destination,” Uber Elevate operations and logistic manager Amy Liu said.

Why is Melbourne so lucky?

The selection of Melbourne as one of the trial cities places Australia ahead of other planned launches in Brazil, France, India and Japan.

Uber regional general manager for Australia, New Zealand and North Asia, Susan Anderson, said 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,” she said.

Ms Anderson added that the Victorian Government has been “highly supportive”.

Treasurer Tim Pallas said in a statement on Wednesday that the Andrews Labor Government, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and other key bodies would work with Uber Elevate in the lead up to the demonstrator flights.

“We’re thrilled that Melbourne has been chosen to partner with Uber Elevate to help start, nurture and grow what could become a new industry, revolutionising travel across the world,” he said.

Uber Air plane taxi

According to Mr Pallas, aerial ridesharing would benefit Victoria’s tourism and events industry with the potential to offer direct rides between the state’s attractions and major events.

Uber said it will work with new Australian partners Macquarie, Telstra and Westfield owner Scentre Group, as well as existing partner Melbourne Airport, to establish the infrastructure and telecommunications needed to create a successful urban aviation network.

Speaking at the Uber Elevate Summit, Ms Anderson said Uber Air is expected to launch in other Australian cities “soon after” Melbourne.

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