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What Will Stop Uber From Being Just Another Failure in the Sky?

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Flying cars have been a sci-fi prediction since rubber first hit the road with the street automobile, but the fantasy of flying cars has always been just that—a fantasy. For some reason, Uber thinks it can transform this pie-in-the-sky concept into actual vehicles cruising through the air.

Amidst a slew recent of scandals, including a lawsuit over allegations of stolen intellectual property and an active investigation into workplace sexism, Uber has some news. At the Uber Elevate summit today, Uber’s chief product officer Jeff Holden gave a keynote speech in which he provided more details about the company’s aggressive plan to introduce flying vehicles to the world. It plans to begin testing flying taxi services in Texas and Dubai by 2020.


You might recall Uber detailed its plans to create the world’s first functional air taxi in a white paper back in October. The paper described how Uber would use “on-demand aviation” to “improve urban mobility” and get people to their destinations faster than they ever could on the road. The key to accomplishing this goal, according to the white paper, is to build “a network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically.” These types of aircrafts are more commonly referred to by aviation experts as VTOLs.

According to Holden’s keynote speech, Uber plans to begin flying these vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles in cooperation with the cities of Dallas and Dubai by 2020. The company’s ultimate goal is to allow customers to simply “push a button” and get picked up by a flying vehicle for travel in and around the city. Holden explained that Uber hopes the aviation service will be commercially available in both cities by 2023. How very ambitious!


There’s a small catch, however, to Uber’s ultimate goal of creating a flying car taxi network. The company isn’t building any of the hardware, and instead will rely on aircraft manufacturers such as Aurora Flight Sciences, Pipistrel Aircraft, Embraer, Mooney, and Bell Helicopter to build the flying taxis. These companies primarily specialize in building small electric aircrafts and will work with Uber to build ones specifically for densely populated areas.

Uber is also working with electric vehicle charging company Chargepoint and real estate companies such as Hillwood Properties to build out the network of pickup and drop off points around the city. Overseeing the entire initiative is former NASA employee Mike Moore, who Uber recently hired as head of aviation engineering.


So what’s the likelihood that any of this ever happens? As we’ve previously reported, there are countless examples of companies boldly declaring that we would have flying cars within just a few years without delivering on their promise. It’s almost always just two years away. Even Uber has previously stated that flying cars are just two years away. Now, Uber is dangling a bunch of names in front of customers hoping that this pipe dream appears to be achievable, even though the company hasn’t proven that this technology is remotely within reach.

Our research on the subject found examples numerous dating back to 2008, when the company Terrafugia promised its flying car was only a couple of years away. More detailed searches found ambitions of flying cars dating back to the 1920s. Luckily, we haven’t been holding our breath since some of these earlier claims have been made.


The problem is that the same issues have persisted for decades. Namely, it’s difficult for aircraft manufacturers to build VTOL vehicles that can be reliably used in densely populated areas. As we’ve previously reported, companies often struggle to get FAA approval for VTOL vehicles, and even when companies do get FAA approval—like Terrafugia—they fail to deliver a working product.


Flying cars are cool to dream about—but Uber hasn’t really offered any tangible reason to make us believe they’re coming any sooner than the dozens of other times we’ve heard the same claims.