Uber Dreams of Flying Taxis, But Who's Going to Build Them?
Uber has put out a white paper describing its intent to get into the vertical take off and landing (VTOL) airplane business, but just like every flying car that's ever been announced, this is still very much a pipe dream.
Published by the Uber Elevate team, "Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation" is a long, detailed explanation of Uber's great dream to bring its ride-sharing service to the sky, but also also highlights the many obstacles in the way of VTOL travel becoming a day-to-day reality.
The biggest impediment is, of course, creating the VTOL planes in the first place. While Uber predicts that the someday it might be as easy and cheap to make a VTOL as it is to make a care, but the company admits that initially "VTOL vehicles are likely to be very expensive." To get to a $200,000 price point, which is what the company thinks is necessary to make the whole plan work, Uber estimates you'd have to get to a production rate of 5,000 VTOL planes per year, or so.
This would be a "transformative" change for the VTOL industry, currently in its infancy, and it poses a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. While Uber does highlight efforts by companies like Airbus and Joby, it also points out that we haven't seen aircraft produced on a scale like this since World War II:
[Such high rates of production] have not been seen with any aircraft since 1946 when ~48,000 small aircraft were produced over a dozen or so model types. This post-WWII high production was a result of industry attempting to repurpose to civil markets, with a large number of pilots suddenly having been introduced to the market place.
Without the boom of a post-total war economy, the road to cheaper VTOL planes will surely be slower. And that's just the first problem. The paper runs through a gamut of fascinating issues, ranging from the creation of urban landing sites in cities to ice-repelling wings to the on-board experience of actually using a VTOL to get to work. But until an affordable VTOL plane is built, the idea of shortening a two hour drive to a fifteen minute flight is just a very well-thought out hard sci-fi novel.