Uber looks to soar with flying taxis by 2020

Pilot models of the Uber self-driving car in a 2016 file photo. Uber aims to use flying taxis by 2020.
Pilot models of the Uber self-driving car in a 2016 file photo. Uber aims to use flying taxis by 2020.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - After upending the taxi market with its ride-hailing service, Uber Technologies is now aiming for the skies with its flying taxis.

The company expects to deploy its flying taxis in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Dubai by 2020, chief product officer Jeff Holden said at the Uber Elevate Summit in Dallas on Tuesday (April 25).

Uber's flying taxis will be small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically, or VTOLs, with zero emissions and quiet enough to operate in cities.

Flying taxis would cut down travel time between San Francisco's Marina to downtown San Jose to 15 minutes, compared with the more than two hours it takes by road, Uber estimates.

In an early scale operation, the company can get to US$1.32 per passenger mile, a little higher than taking an UberX for a similar distance, Holden said.

In the longer term, Uber expects the cost of taking flying taxis to fall below car ownership.

The company is working with Hillwood Properties to make four vertiports - VTOL hubs with multiple takeoff and landing pads, and charging infrastructure - in Dallas starting next year, Holden said.

Uber, valued at US$68 billion (S$94 billion), has also teamed up with companies such as Bell Helicopter, Aurora, Pipistrel, Mooney and Embraer to make the flying taxis.

The company has also partnered with US electric vehicle charging station maker ChargePoint. Uber is working on developing an exclusive charger for its network.

Uber, which has partnered with the Dubai government, expects to conduct passenger flights as part of the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.

The ride-hailing service has recently been rocked by a number of setbacks, including detailed accusations of sexual harassment from a former female employee and a video showing chief executive Travis Kalanick harshly berating an Uber driver.