Columnist John McElroy, the producer of the Autoline newscasts in Detroit, recently authored an editorial cautioning automakers about a new transportation trend which might disrupt some car company business models: on demand urban aviation. This emerging market proposes utilizing passenger drones for on demand air flight in urban areas.
Advocates For Urban Aviation
Mr. McElroy noted a diverse group of proponents currently support the development of the nascent urban aviation industry. They include the United States and Communist Chinese governments, aerospace firms, several helicopter companies, and Uber, a large ridesharing startup. To promote the concept, Uber recently sponsored a three-day conference entitled “Uber Elevate”. It headlined 72 guest speakers from an array of urban aviation interest groups.
Advocates for the urban aviation industry envision a world in the near future in which passenger drones land and take off vertically to transport between four and six people at a time across congested urban landscapes. These autonomous craft would charge competitive fares. They would land on flat roofs or lawns to collect passengers who hailed them with the assistance of an app. John McElroy cautioned the Uber paradigm holds the potential to disrupt the urban transportation models proposed by some supporters of self-driving automotive technology.
Speculation exists that innovative craft such as Joby Aviation’s Joby S2 could serve as the prototype for an urban aviation industry workhorse. Jeff Holden, Uber’s Chief Product Officer, recently informed the news media in Australia his company hopes to launch the Uber Elevate service as soon as 2020 in Dallas, Texas and the Middle Eastern nation of Dubai. Uber hopes to expand the service to include Melbourne and Sydney in Australia by 2023.
Uber revealed it has partnered already with several aircraft manufacturing firms to help design a suitable VTOL (a “vertical-takeoff-and-landing” aircraft). Bell Helicopter and Aurora Flight Services reportedly contributed to this effort. The company hopes to obtain designated flight corridors for its craft within urban areas. A spokesman for Australia’s Civil Aviation and Safety Authority reiterated his nation will require extensive testing before approving any autonomous craft for passenger use.
Ironically, the proposed urban aviation industry could find itself in contention for airspace with drone traffic in some places in the future. Many companies have begun exploring the use of drones as merchandise delivery vehicles. Planners will need to develop comprehensive safety protocols.