Uber Elevate in review

uber day 1 pic.JPG

It is fitting that the third Uber Elevate Summit is taking place in Washington D.C – because this time it’s all about the regulators.

Whilst the usual VTOL OEMs, Uber executives and drone specialists are taking the stage, the buzz this year is around regulation. People are building VTOLs, now the certification journey begins.

Whereas Uber doesn’t have the sort of experience in certifying aircraft of other air-taxi service providers and OEMs such as Airbus, it is bringing together as many regulators as possible to discuss just how to get its own gargantuan project into the sky.

But its not just the sky. What Uber has demonstrated this year is that VTOL’s are just a small part of its new vision for urban transport. Aside from the car-hailing the company is known for, it is also investing in electric scooter and bike renting services to create a curated point-to-point transport service.

When you want to get from one city to another, Uber wants to be involved in every single part of that journey. It wants you to rent a bike to your nearest Uber Skyport, pick up some food there courtesy of Uber Eats, fly across town in an Uber Air VTOL and finally get an Uber X to the door of your destination for one price.

One of the many futuristic concepts for the Uber Air ‘Skyports’

One of the many futuristic concepts for the Uber Air ‘Skyports’

If there is one company that could realise this dream it is likely to be Uber with its global customer base and a brand name that has become synonymous with urban transport. In the words of Uber Elevate CEO Eric Allison – “How do you start flying people across cities? Well having an existing transport market with 93 million users is a good start.”

Uber is certainly aware of the regulatory barriers that are in the way of flying thousands of passengers a day in hundreds of a brand-new aircraft type. This is why everyone from Transport Secretaries to FAA are in town to talk about the challenges ahead.

As well as taking notes from legacy aviation companies, VTOL manufacturers are following the drone market closely to see just how to go about introducing a completely new type of aircraft into the airspace and to wade through a regulatory environment and infrastructure that are just not built to accommodate it.

While the road ahead is long and congested, it is easy to get bogged down in the technicalities and problems. But more than 500 people are converging on Washington because VTOLs are exciting. More than one speaker has tagged these new aircraft as the most exciting development since the dawn of the jet age.

Even those you might expect to be the most pessimistic about the market are excited and working towards getting these aircraft flying. In the words of Dan Elwell, the acting head of the FAA: “You guys make aerospace cool again.”

“With drones, a whole new market appeared overnight, and we were left behind. That is why we are working with everyone to get it right this time.”