Uber’s ‘flying cars’ coming to Australia
Exclusive: A Jetsons-style vision of the future could arrive in Australia next year after Uber named Melbourne as the first international base for its flying car project, Uber Air, this morning.
The Australian city will become one of just three centres worldwide to host the ambitious transportation venture that will let passengers hail an aircraft from a smartphone app and fly to their destinations for the cost of a car ride.
That could see a flight from Melbourne's CBD to the airport cost as little as $86 - the same price as its luxury offering, Uber Black. Cab rides, by comparison, currently cost just $20 less.
Test flights are expected to begin in Melbourne next year before a commercial launch in 2023.
Uber is yet to reveal the exact aircraft that will run the flights or their weight and luggage limitations but, if testing is successful, the company is likely to roll the project out in Sydney next, with potential flights between the Central Coast and CBD.
Uber Air could also become even more futuristic after its launch, with plans to eventually have aircraft fly autonomously, avoiding potential pilot shortages.
The ride-sharing firm revealed its Australian choice at the third Uber Elevate Summit in Washington DC, choosing Melbourne over cities in short-listed countries Japan, France, Brazil and India.
Uber Australia and New Zealand general manager Susan Anderson said the company picked Melbourne as it was "confident" it could work with Australian federal, state and local governments, safety authorities, and property groups to deliver the service.
"This is a win for Australia and I think it reflects the fact that this is one of the most forward-thinking countries in the world," she told News Corp.
"Some of the things we were looking for were regulators that we could work with and would help us build it, and a population who would embrace this enterprise."
As part of the venture, Uber has partnered with Australian firms including Melbourne Airport, Telstra, Scentre Group, and Macquarie Capital to develop launch pads around the city, dubbed Skyports, as well as a connected air traffic system.
Ms Anderson said the route between Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport and the city would be one of the first targeted by Uber Air, as the 19km ride could be cut from one hour on the road to just 10 minutes in the air.
It's not known what demand there would be for the service but Uber's "surge pricing" policy could raise the cost of its early flights.
Future routes could include travel from Geelong to the city, with the journey taking 14 minutes by air, but Ms Anderson said Uber would expand the project to other Australian cities as soon as feasible.
"When we look at the growth that's come into Australia over the past few years, we need alternative traffic solutions," she said.
"Once we have regulations in place, we're keen to make this available in as many places as possible."
But Uber will have to overcome several hurdles before launching its air service in Australia, such as choosing a vertical take-off-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft, having the vehicles certified by the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority, getting approval for air routes, and implementing safety measures to avoid other low-altitude aircraft and drones.
CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said it had held initial talks with Uber but there was still "a lot of safety work to be done" before Uber Air was ready for takeoff.
"It is cutting-edge stuff. It's a world first for aviation," he said.
"At the same time, what they've got to do is not a million miles away from if someone wanted to start up a new airline tomorrow. It's the same sort of process."
Mr Gibson said Uber Air's timetable of a commercial launch by 2023 was "not impossible" but the company would need to do more to operate aircraft autonomously in Australian air space.
"The aim is for these things to fly themselves but, of course, they won't be doing that from day one," he said.
"Uber fully recognise they have to have people monitoring the systems for quite a while to prove they can operate safely before they move to full autonomous mode."
Melbourne will join Dallas and Los Angeles as testbeds for Uber's latest venture, and Ms Anderson said even though the Australian launch site "started the process slightly later," the company was still aiming to hold test flights next year.
"A key aim for us is we want this to not be something for the elite, super wealthy but something that is accessible for a large portion of the population," she said.
Today's Uber Air announcement followed the company's recent month-long foray into a ride-sharing submarine, dubbed scUber, on Queensland's Great Barrier Reef.
Uber has also revealed plans to launch a helicopter service in New York next month, dubbed Uber Copter, that will fly passengers from Manhattan to John F. Kennedy Airport for up to $US225 per person.
**Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson travelled to Washington DC as a guest of Uber.