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Flying cabs for public transport could be reality in 7 years, says Uber

The company has initiated the process of dialogues with everyone, starting from the government and aviation agencies such as DGCA and air transport infrastructure developers

Arindam Majumder & Karan Choudhury  |  New Delhi 

Uber flying car

Global cab aggregator Uber has shortlisted India as one of the five countries to explore the launching of Uber Elevate or a fleet of flying cabs for inter- as well as intra-city transportation.

The company has initiated the process of dialogues with everyone, starting from the government and aviation agencies such as Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and air transport infrastructure developers, in hopes of launching the service in the next seven years, Eric Allison, head of Uber Aviation Programs, said.

Unlike its cab aggregation business, where it has faced a host of regulatory issues with a number of countries including India, Uber Elevate has started working closely with the governments and aviation agencies for a smooth take-off. If things go according to plan, the company is expecting to launch its commercial operations in 2023.

The firm aims to hold flight demonstrations by 2020 in Dallas and Los Angeles in the US. From there, it plans to move to countries, including Japan, Australia, Brazil, and India. It is working with as many as five aircraft manufactures globally to build air taxi prototypes.

“Our partners have said that we are on track. In large cities, we will have four to five sky ports and have 10 to 15 vehicles during launch. In whatever city in India we launch, we have to develop real estate partnerships. We have to work with them to prepare sky ports. I think five years is enough to do that,” Allison said, adding that Elevate would be a time-saving tool.

“The time-saving potential is huge. Congestion does not differentiate between rich and poor. I think it is important to drive this into a mass-market product. Ultimately, it will come down to how many people you can serve. The cost a mile we showed is done in US. We haven’t done the analysis for India, yet. The cost structure in India is a lot cheaper than the US,” he said.

The company said they had engineered products in India that were not available in the US such as UberGo, which is cheaper in India than the UberX in the US. “I want to point out that the ride-sharing concept allows you to drive at a lower cost. So, the capex of the vehicle does not matter much if you can operate a lot of trips. It is those types of economics which can be applied in India,” Allison said.

To keep the costs down, the company is also toying with the idea of manufacturing certain portions of the vehicle in India. “I do not know if we would build it here but it is conceivable to train partners. Like a lot of other companies develop products in India for its use, it is conceivable that it can be done,”

Allison said. In the US, Uber has started engaging with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and flight schools on how to prepare pilots. It plans to do the same in other countries as well.

However, having UberEats delivering food via drone could still take some time, as carrying payloads via drones is not allowed in India. But Uber is hopeful. “The FAA did not allow carrying payloads but they are moving fast. I hope this is the trend other regulators will pick up,” he said.

First Published: Fri, September 07 2018. 05:30 IST