Uber’s vision of a future with flying cars is on full display in Washington this week, where regulators will have to smash an existing labyrinth of aviation rules to make the $90 billion company’s dreams come true.
The ridesharing giant’s third annual Elevate summit showcases hopes for “urban air mobility” — a network of car-sized quad-copters whizzing through major metropolitan areas from chic skyports.
“Everyone is riveted by this, but then I put on my FAA regulator hat and now I’ve got a whole new bucket of stuff to keep me awake at night,” said FAA Administrator Dan Elwell to a crowd gathered in the Ronald Reagan Building.
Uber is looking for major reforms to regulations governing commercial air taxi operators and also the aircraft approval process. Typically manufacturers pay millions of their own money to test new aircraft against stringent, federally-set safety criteria. On display are battery-powered designs that take off and land vertically.
“Unlike helicopters, eVTOLs are all-electric,” says an Uber website. “We’re developing vehicles with a focus on safety, minimizing noise, and energy efficiency.”
Elwell said this will be a slow process—like a baby going from crawling to running.
“We’re not ready to walk or run yet. Walking or running will require these highly autonomous vehicles and system’s meet the FAA’s and the public’s safety expectations for aviation. As we’ve discussed, those expectations are very high.”
Uber hopes to launch Uber Air by 2023 with tests beginning next year. Tuesday, Melbourne, Australia was announced as the third launch city. Uber also needs massive changes to the country’s complicated airspace network.
Ironically, some of the most restricted airspace in the country is over Washington, D.C. — begging the question if we’ll ever see such a service in our area.