Uber shortlists five countries for Uber Air launch
Uber’s head of urban air mobility Nikhil Goel announced yesterday that the company has narrowed down its search for the third UberAir launch city to five countries – Japan, France, Brazil, Australia and India.
The shortlist was announced at a meeting of 21 aerospace and tech companies in Tokyo to discuss how to regulate and introduce air-taxi services to Japan.
The first two launch cities – Dallas and Los Angeles – were announced in 2017. Dubai was announced as the third launch city in November last year but after a few months of silence Uber reopened the selection process for the third city in May 2018 at the Uber Elevate conference.
Whilst the reason the Dubai deal fell through was not clarified, Reuters suggested progress in Dubai suffered apparent delays, causing Uber to reopen the contest for the third city.
Uber hopes to start demonstration flights for the UberAir service across these launch cities in 2020 and looks to start full commercial operations in 2023.
According to the Verge, Uber will have a final decision on the third country in six months.
Over the past two years, Uber has been talking to governments around the world to find the most accommodating and viable cities to launch its air-taxi service. Having narrowed the list down to five, it seems that each country was shortlisted for different reasons.
Firstly, Japan’s cities have some of the world’s most developed public transport services. Tokyo is particularly recognised for its efficient rail infrastructure. Also, the greater Tokyo area counts as the world’s most populated city and many of those in the city rely on public transport rather than cars to commute.
Additionally, Tokyo is noteworthy for having the third highest number of helipads of any city, meaning more places for aircraft to land. However, the issue here is that many of these helipads are not open to the public. Rather, the local government asks that any building over 45 metres should include a helipad to help evacuate those on the top floor in the case of a natural disaster.
France is second on the list and it makes sense as in May Uber announced plans to build its air-taxi tech centre in Paris where it will research and develop its air taxis. This is the only Uber R&D hub outside of North America and will open in autumn 2018.
Alongside this, Uber also partnered with Paris University and the research institute École Polytechnique to conduct a five-year research programme with the goal of researching how best to integrate new urban air mobility solutions into existing city transport and airspace.
This makes Paris specifically one of Uber’s main bases for its UberAir operations outside of the U.S.
Brazil is one of the more-obvious choices simply due to its existing and thriving urban air transport infrastructure. São Paulo is the blueprint for urban air transport, with many helicopter operators offering city-wide commuter flights today.
Airbus noticed this and set up Voom, a mobile booking service similar to Uber’s, which consolidates many of the city’s top helicopter services into one app and allows users to book on the fly. The service has also been expanded to Mexico City.
São Paulo also boasts by far the most helipads of any city and Brazil as a whole has the fourth largest number of heliports, with about 1,000 scattered across the country.
Whilst Australia does not have an existing urban air transport infrastructure, Uber has been considering Sydney and Melbourne for its flying car service.
In a visit to Sydney last August, Uber chief production officer Jeff Holden said that Sydney and Melbourne were on the company’s wish list to launch its air taxi service.
During his visit News.com.au. reported Mr Holden as saying: “Sydney, for sure, is one city we want to look at, and partly because New South Wales has demonstrated a lot of interest in being forward-thinking,” he said.
“Sydney certainly has its congestion problems and I think the community would benefit from urban aviation. If I wanted to get to Bondi from the city (with Uber Elevate), I could be there in just five minutes. That’s a very exciting concept.”
What Australia lacks in infrastructure it makes up in aspiration. Over the past few years, the country has been making a significant push to bring in new green initiatives across multiple private sectors and it makes sense that Uber’s promise of an all-electric city transport service would be appealing to local Australian governments.
Out of the five shortlisted countries, four out of the five were to be expected – with India being the outlier.
Whilst the other four countries have been the topic of much discussion within the air-taxi market, the same cannot be said for India. Uber had previously cited interest in India as a launch market but, outside of comments made at the Uber Elevate conference in January, there has not been much talk from Uber or any of the other countless air taxi companies.
According to the Hindu Business Line, Uber’s engineering director of Aviation expressed interest in the market at the conference, saying: “We are talking with a lot of governments across the world. India makes a lot of sense, particularly in densely populated areas. We would love to work with the government.”
However, congestion has been an ever-increasing problem in the country over the past few years. With a growing middle class, more and more Indians are buying cars and commuting across cities that are not designed to accommodate current levels of traffic.
Additionally, India has the second largest number of heliports of any country with more than 1,100 helicopter landing areas across the country. Whilst this is a far cry from the U.S. which has more than 5,500, this existing infrastructure is also another key reason to consider India as a launch country before Uber starts work on building a network of ‘Skyports’.