Uber says flying cars will be cheaper than driving

FLYING to work could be cheaper than driving your own car there in future, the head of Uber Elevate claims. But the new service will have limitations.

The ride-sharing giant's claim came on the first day of its Uber Elevate Summit in Washington DC, where the company named Australia as the second country to test Uber's fleet of flying cars next year.

But it also came as details emerged about some of the service's limitations, including restricted baggage allowances, a staggered launch to manage demand, and a new interior design missing some of the comforts of plane travel.

Uber claims flying to work could be more cost-effective than driving.
Uber claims flying to work could be more cost-effective than driving.

Uber Elevate head Eric Allison outlined the company's new goals for its flying cars at the third annual event, revealing new aircraft designs, new partnerships, and plans to lower the cost of riding in the urban aircraft even further.

While the company promised to deliver short flights around Melbourne city for about the same price as an Uber Black, or as little as $86 to the airport, Mr Allison said that price could fall further as the project matured.

"Today helicopters are only affordable for the fairly wealthy. At launch, the technology of an (electric vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft) can reduce that cost by about a third," he said. "We don't think that's enough. Our vision is that on a daily basis, it will be more economically rational for you to fly than it will be for you to drive."

An ariutst’s impression of an Uber Air aircraft flying over Melbourne’s Yarra Raiver. Picture: Supplied
An ariutst’s impression of an Uber Air aircraft flying over Melbourne’s Yarra Raiver. Picture: Supplied

Mr Allison said he expected the price of Uber Air flights to fall to the equivalent of lower, Uber X pricing after launch, and become "competitive with car ownership" over the long term.

Cost savings would be achieved over several years, he said, as Uber Elevate proved its flying cars could transport passengers autonomously, removing the expensive of paying pilots, and when the aircraft could be manufactured like cars are now.

But details of the aircraft's potential limitations also emerged at the Summit.

Even though Uber Air is expected to offer flights to airports in Melbourne, Los Angeles, and Dallas, passengers will be restricted in what baggage they can bring on board the aircraft.

As a guide, Uber's upcoming Chopper service in New York will only allow passengers to bring a carry-on bag weighing up to 18kg and a personal item, like a handbag.

The company's new cabin design for the flying cars - developed with French aerospace company Safran and unveiled at the Summit - would also eliminate the seatback pockets and cupholders seen in earlier prototypes.

Uber Australia and New Zealand general manager Susan Anderson said the company would also:

• Work on creating efficient safety briefings for passengers;

• Install security around Skyports fitted in Westfield car parks;

• Develop a launch strategy to manage early demand given the service will be operating from a limited number of launch sites.

She said Uber may invite loyal or business customers to trial the service before it was opened to everyone.

"This is a bold innovation and it will change how people travel but it won't be perfect from day one," Ms Anderson said.

"There will be some forward-looking people who really embrace this technology and who are keen to see how it works. Our cities will look quite different if there are 200 flights an hour happening and many vehicles are in the sky."

Uber also confirmed plans to launch flying cars in other Australian cities after its Melbourne launch, with Ms Anderson announcing "other cities such as Sydney" were on its radar.

Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson travelled to Washington DC as a guest of Uber.