To bring uberAIR to market, we plan to partner with three ‘launch cities’. This will allow for a balance between focus and city diversity that will set the service up for long-term success.
Dallas and Los Angeles were previously announced as the first two launch cities, and we are now seeking an international city as the third partner. These three cities will be the first to offer uberAIR flights, with the goals of operating demonstrator flights starting in 2020 and beginning commercial operations in 2023.
We’ve been thrilled by the inbound interest from the international community, and we’ve now formalized a process to submit an Express of Interest whereby cities can engage with Uber directly and articulate their views on how uberAIR can positively impact their market and how they can help in launching and scaling the service.
Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft will bring far-reaching changes to our cities and our lives—quicker daily commutes, less traffic congestion, and cleaner air around the world. Uber Elevate has already started exploring the barriers we’ll need to overcome to make this a reality. Read our white paper to learn more about the future.Download The Full White Paper Elevate Summit
Imagine traveling from San Francisco’s Marina to work in downtown San Jose — a drive that would normally occupy the better part of two hours — in only 15 minutes. What if you could save nearly four hours round-trip between São Paulo’s city center and the suburbs in Campinas? Or imagine reducing your 90-plus minute stop-and-go commute from Gurgaon to your office in central New Delhi to a mere six minutes.
Every day, millions of hours are wasted on the road worldwide. Last year, the average San Francisco resident spent 230 hours commuting between work and home—that’s half a million hours of productivity lost every single day. In Los Angeles and Sydney, residents spend seven whole working weeks each year commuting, two of which are wasted unproductively stuck in gridlock. In many global megacities, the problem is more severe: the average commute in Mumbai exceeds a staggering 90 minutes. For all of us, that’s less time with family, less time at work growing our economies, more money spent on fuel — and a marked increase in our stress levels: a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, for example, found that those who commute more than 10 miles were at increased odds of elevated blood pressure.
On-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes. Uber is close to the commute pain that citizens in cities around the world feel. We view helping to solve this problem as core to our mission and our commitment to our rider base. Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground. A network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically (called VTOL aircraft for Vertical Take-off and Landing, and pronounced vee-tol), will enable rapid, reliable transportation between suburbs and cities and, ultimately, within cities.
The development of infrastructure to support an urban VTOL network will likely have significant cost advantages over heavy-infrastructure approaches such as roads, rail, bridges and tunnels. It has been proposed that the repurposed tops of parking garages, existing helipads, and even unused land surrounding highway interchanges could form the basis of an extensive, distributed network of “vertiports” (VTOL hubs with multiple takeoff and landing pads, as well as charging infrastructure) or single-aircraft “vertistops” (a single VTOL pad with minimal infrastructure). As costs for traditional infrastructure options continue to increase, the lower cost and increased flexibility provided by these new approaches may provide compelling options for cities and states around the world.
Furthermore, VTOLs do not need to follow fixed routes. Trains, buses, and cars all funnel people from A to B along a limited number of dedicated routes, exposing travelers to serious delays in the event of a single interruption. VTOLs, by contrast, can travel toward their destination independently of any specific path, making route-based congestion less prevalent.
Recently, technology advances have made it practical to build this new class of VTOL aircraft. Over a dozen companies, with as many different design approaches, are passionately working to make VTOLs a reality. The closest equivalent technology in use today is the helicopter, but helicopters are too noisy, inefficient, polluting, and expensive for mass-scale use. VTOL aircraft will make use of electric propulsion so they have zero operational emissions and will likely be quiet enough to operate in cities without disturbing the neighbors. At flying altitude, noise from advanced electric vehicles will be barely audible. Even during take-off and landing, the noise will be comparable to existing background noise. These VTOL designs will also be markedly safer than today’s helicopters because VTOLs will not need to be dependent on any single part to stay airborne and will ultimately use autonomy technology to significantly reduce operator error.
We expect that daily long-distance commutes in heavily congested urban and suburban areas and routes under-served by existing infrastructure will be the first use cases for urban VTOLs. This is due to two factors. First, the amount of time and money saved increases with the trip length, so VTOLs will have greatest appeal for those traveling longer distances and durations. Second, even though building a high density of landing site infrastructure in urban cores (e.g. on rooftops and parking structures) will take some time, a small number of vertiports could absorb a large share of demand from long-distance commuters since the “last mile” ground transportation component will be small relative to the much longer commute distance.
We also believe that in the long-term, VTOLs will be an affordable form of daily transportation for the masses, even less expensive than owning a car. Normally, people think of flying as an expensive and infrequent form of travel, but that is largely due to the low production volume manufacturing of today’s aircraft. Even though small aircraft and helicopters are of similar size, weight, and complexity to a car, they cost about 20 times more.
Ultimately, if VTOLs can serve the on-demand urban transit case well — quiet, fast, clean, efficient, and safe — there is a path to high production volume manufacturing (at least thousands of a specific model type built per year) which will enable VTOLs to achieve a dramatically lower per-vehicle cost. The economics of manufacturing VTOLs will become more akin to automobiles than aircraft. Initially, of course, VTOL vehicles are likely to be very expensive, but because the ridesharing model amortizes the vehicle cost efficiently over paid trips, the high cost should not end up being prohibitive to getting started. And once the ridesharing service commences, a positive feedback loop should ensue that ultimately reduces costs and thus prices for all users, i.e. as the total number of users increases, the utilization of the aircraft increases. Logically, this continues with the pooling of trips to achieve higher load factors, and the lower price feeds back to drive more demand. This increases the volume of aircraft required, which in turn drives manufacturing costs down. Except for the manufacturing learning curve improvements (which aren’t relevant to ridesharing being applied to automobiles), this is very much the pattern exhibited during Uber’s growth in ground transportation, fueled by the transition from the higher-cost UberBLACK product to the lower-cost and therefore more utilized uberX and uberPOOL products.
The vision portrayed above is ambitious, but we believe it is achievable in the coming decade if all the key actors in the VTOL ecosystem — regulators, vehicle designers, communities, cities, and network operators — collaborate effectively. The following are what we perceive as the most critical challenges to address in order to bring on-demand urban air transportation to market.
NASA and the FAA recently spearheaded a series of On-Demand Mobility (ODM) workshops to bring the VTOL ecosystem together — emerging VTOL vehicle manufacturers, federal agencies, private investors, professional societies, universities, and international aviation organizations — to identify barriers to launching an on-demand VTOL service. The barriers identified by the ODM workshops group (in the below diagram) align quite well with the challenges identified in our foregoing assessment.
The remainder of our paper delves into these challenges for achieving a successful VTOL market, with an eye to surmounting them as quickly as possible, as well as our view on rider experience requirements. Our intent here is to contribute to the nascent but growing VTOL ecosystem and to start to play whatever role is most helpful to accelerate this industry’s development. Rather than manufacture VTOL hardware ourselves, we instead look to collaborate with vehicle developers, regulators, city and national governments, and other community stakeholders, while bringing to the table a very fertile market of excited consumers and a clear vehicle and operations use case. At the end of the paper, we introduce an upcoming summit for vehicle developer entrepreneurs, regulators and cities, which we hope will help advance discussions and collaboration to bring on-demand urban air transportation to life.
We welcome all feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.Download the Full White Paper Elevate Summit
 For example, the UK’s proposed High Speed 2 railway would cost taxpayers £27B ($33B) over nine years for a single straight-line route between London and Birmingham — that’s nearly $280M/mile, a projection that continues to increase (source). This is just one example project; our point is that new technology can create options for transportation infrastructure that are far lower cost.
 “Operational emissions” refers to the emissions from the vehicle during operation, which is only a portion of the full life-cycle emissions. There is great value in achieving zero operational emissions: see the Vehicle: Emissions section for a deeper discussion on this topic.
 Not only are aircraft and helicopters dramatically more expensive than cars, but also the components going into the vehicles. The 430-horsepower Corvette LS3 6.2 liter crate complete engine has a MSRP of $7911 from GM. yet is far more complex than an aircraft engine, such as the Continental IO-550C 300 hp engine which has a MSRP of $46,585. See the Economics section for more details.
 Our economic modeling shows that these performance numbers are necessary for feasible long distance commuteVTOL service. Shorter trip distances could utilize slower vehicles, with a penalty of having lower vehicle productivity.
 Current helicopters have a myriad of parts that are single fault flight critical components which require tight oversight on part production quality as well as frequent maintenance checks of individual components for wear and tolerance due to the harsh, high vibration operating environment.