Uber Air EmbraerX prototype aircraft flying over Melbourne. Picture: Supplied
Uber Air EmbraerX prototype aircraft flying over Melbourne. Picture: Supplied

Flying taxis to Geelong one step closer

UBER has named Melbourne as the first international base for its flying car project, opening the way for the futuristic taxi flights to service Geelong.

A 14-minute trip from ­Geelong to Melbourne using a vertical take-off-and-landing aircraft was one of the services flagged for the Jetsons-style Uber Air program, which was yesterday announced as coming to Melbourne.

It will become one of three centres worldwide to host the ambitious venture that will let passengers hail an aircraft from a smartphone app and fly to their destinations for the cost of a car ride.

It could see a flight from Melbourne city to the airport cost as little as $86 - the same price as its Uber Black. Taxi rides cost only $20 less.

Test flights are expected to start in Melbourne next year before a launch in 2023.

Uber is yet to reveal the aircraft for 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.

Uber Air could also become even more futuristic after its launch, with plans to 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 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 this is one of the most forward-thinking countries in the world," Ms Anderson said.

"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 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 Airport and the city would be one of the first targeted by Uber Air, as the 19km ride could be cut from an hour on the road to 10 minutes in the air.

It is not known what ­demand there would be for the service but Uber's "surge pricing" policy could raise the cost of its early flights.



As revealed by the Geelong Advertiser in November, future routes could include travel from Geelong to the city 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, such as choosing an aircraft, having the vehicles certified by the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority, approval for 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".

"It is cutting-edge stuff. It's a world first for aviation," Mr Gibson 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."

He said Uber Air's timetable of a launch by 2023 was "not impossible" but the company would need to do more to operate aircraft autonomously.

"The aim is for these things to fly themselves but, of course, they won't be doing that from day one," Mr Gibson 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, 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.

Uber has revealed plans to launch a helicopter service in New York next month.

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

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