Uber recently announced that it has partnered with Bell Helicopter among others to change the way we travel. Many of us use Uber for car service, but now Uber hopes to revolutionize the industry by adding helicopter-like service to its list.
Bell has agreed to develop what they are calling hybrid electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) vehicles. If you think this sounds like a helicopter – exactly what Bell makes – you’re right. But can they develop a safe product that can be offered to consumers at a reasonable price? After all, anyone with sufficient funds can already charter a helicopter. Presumably Uber is hoping to deliver such conveniences to the masses.
Assuming Uber can get past the technical problems, with Bell’s help of course, there are also a number of legal and practical issues. First, who will be qualified to safely fly these things? Also, envision a high number of VTOL’s flying above congested traffic in urban areas. Uber’s proposal raises a whole host of issues, not the least of which is how the Federal Aviation Administration could adequately regulate and oversee this additional component of civil aviation. How would it be regulated? How would the airspace be shared? The FAA is still struggling with implementation of drone regulations. For that matter, how would emissions and noise from VTOLs be regulated?
Uber hopes to launch its on-demand, low altitude aviation services in Dallas and Dubai. It reportedly is already looking for landing spots and locations for charging stations for its yet-to-be-developed VTOLs. The goal is the have it up and running at some level by 2020, which sounds pretty ambitious.