Just ten years ago and the name Uber was little known outside of perhaps the minds of a small group of individuals that were seeking to reduce the price to hire luxury cars and drivers. While that original model has morphed into something that has become affordable to the masses and a major competitor to private hire taxis and road hailing cabs, Uber has become an almost USD60 billion business. One of the most successful technological disruptors, Uber is now facing its own disruption… from itself! Well, in the form of Uber Elevate, which is effectively taking the ride-sharing model to the skies above our biggest cities.
- Uber has ambitions to bring another level of disruption to urban transportation and bring a new competitor to its ground based ride-share model in the skies above our most congested global cities;
- While ambitious, the idea of building skyports above the main road arteries that feed commuters in and out of cities and delivering passengers close to their destinations in small electric-powered aircraft make a lot of sense;
- Uber Elevate claims to be ‘the future of urban air transport’ and has already partnered with Dallas and Los Angeles as ‘launch cities’ to test the uberAIR model;
- It is now seeking an international city as the third partner and hopes to be operating demonstrator flights as early as 2020 and begin commercial operations in 2023.
Like all ambitious proposals, and this certainly goes beyond simply aspirational, there are many industry sceptics that believe that the idea is nothing more than a marketing ploy aimed at boosting Uber’s stock market valuation or simply distancing headlines from the increasingly hard times the company is facing in many different markets across the globe. But while it is clear this needs major investment and a change in thinking, it is a logical solution to the problem of congestion we are seeing in the major cities across the world.
While we may only slighting raise an eyebrow to the use of a drone to deliver our shopping, the idea of ferrying commuters around the city in a four-seater air taxi, building major skyports above motorways to feed the system is a bit more extreme. But Uber is not alone in its thinking. Hundreds of millions of dollars is already pouring into technological start-ups working to build new small, passenger-carrying aircraft. An increasing number of new ventures are emerging pursuing various approaches to “electric, vertical take-off and landing” (Evtol) technology, including household names such as Airbus and Embraer.
Uber Elevate claims to be ‘the future of urban air transport’ and has already partnered with Dallas and Los Angeles as ‘launch cities’ to test the uberAIR model and allow for a balance between focus and city diversity that it says “will set the service up for long-term success”. It is now seeking an international city as the third partner and hopes to be operating demonstrator flights as early as 2020 and begin commercial operations in 2023.
The Blue Swan Daily spoke to Frans Hiemstra, head of partner channels, sub-saharan Africa for Uber at the recent AviaDev Africa 2018 air service connectivity forum in Cape Town, South Africa, to find out why the company believes on-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility and how it sees Africa as a market.